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Greater Love…

Harry Potter #4 Resurrection  

I Corinthians 15:20-26; Hebrews 11:32-12:3

Wednesday morning as we stood at the graveside for a parishioner’s committal, I asked everyone present to pause for a moment of prayerful silence and look around at our view of hope, listening for, feeling the Holy Spirit’s presence there with us. And as we looked out across the cemetery, I noted that all of the dear ones buried there have handed down gifts and bequeathed legacies that have given shape to who we are and who we will yet become. Now, that sounds beautiful and true and I think it is, or I wouldn’t have said it. But those words also run the risk of glossing over other truths. I walk through our cemetery often and find it to be a place of peace and serenity where I feel God’s Presence a little easier. But as I walk, it’s also hard to miss all the tragic stories this place holds. Babies are buried out there, children, teenagers, young adults, young mothers and fathers. So many tears have been shed on that ground. If you allow yourself to be truly present, when you walk among the graves, you don’t only feel hope, your senses also tune to the heart break. And I think that’s likely why it’s such a prayerful place.

I have a crazy quilt up here this morning. We think if was sewn by my great grandma. This quilt is an analogy for our lives. You see, we live our lives just a few pieces at a time. And before you know it, a few years have passed and you’ve created a whole block. And when you are in this nice peachy orange area and life is just going along, you can maybe make out a few other blocks, past seasons from your life, but mostly you are taken up in whatever present piece you occupy at the moment. And if you find yourself in a rougher area or on a dark patch, chances are good that at that point in life, it’s really hard to see beyond just that little piece of fabric. But as you go through life, you are also moving yourself over all these different areas. And here’s the thing about a crazy quilt. It’s far from perfect. There are places where the fabric is puckered. The binding isn’t sewn straight. Really, the materials don’t go together well at all. You see this really beautiful red velvet is hemmed in on one side by ugly tie material and on the other side with a coarse cotton.

However, stand back and you see something right and whole and I will say beautiful too, because I love crazy quilts. But even if a crazy quilt isn’t your thing, hopefully you see up here a work of art that is totally unique, something that is greater than the sum of its individual parts. This 20 block quilt represents a long life, well lived.

On weeks when I have a funeral to plan for and lead, many of you often express concern for me and I really appreciate that. And yes, it does mean longer hours and a little less sleep, a little less time with my family. But just for a week. The truth is, and I have heard many other pastors say the same thing, being able to do a funeral for someone who lived a long life, someone who completed all 20 squares, and even more importantly, someone who over the course of their life had come to meet their Maker and was at peace with going Home to be with God, well, it is truly my joy and privilege to be part of a funeral like that. Because here’s what I get to do. I get to take all the stories and memories you’ve shared with me over the years. I get to take all of my own personal visits and impressions and I get to take all the spoken cherished remembrances and emotions and tributes of the family and then weave all that together with scripture and present this crazy quilt of a person’s life lived in faithfulness to God.

Funerals are always hard, for everyone involved they are hard. Grief is difficult, certainly when you’re experiencing it but also when you’re bearing witness. But a 20 block crazy quilt funeral is also a joy and is life-giving. The smaller the quilt, the shorter the life, the more difficult things become. Both of our more recent funerals, though threaded with grief, were ultimately 20 block celebrations of lives well-lived in service to and in commitment to their Lord.

This is the final sermon in this Harry Potter series, so I want to turn now to the author of the books, J.K. Rowling. Rowling was only 25 years old when the idea for Harry Potter came to her on a train trip. Upon returning home, she immediately started to write. Only a couple of months later, her mother passed away after a 10 year battle with multiple sclerosis. Her mother’s death sent her reeling. Work on the book mostly came to a halt. Two years later, Rowling married, then had a daughter and shortly after worked to get out of what had become an abusive relationship. In 1993, Rowling and her infant daughter moved to Scotland to be near her sister. At that point, she felt her life was a failure. Her short marriage was over. Despite a very good education, she had no job and was on welfare. She had a baby to take care of. She was also still mourning the loss of her mother and was diagnosed with clinical depression and contemplated suicide. For those of you who have read the books or watched the movies, the dementors, those evil beings who suck all joy and hope from those they attack, were inspired by her journey with depression. This is the context in which Rowling wrote and published book one (Wikipedia).

But what Rowling did with her books, what all good authors do with their books, she injected all her own grief and questions and heartaches into her writing, into her characters. Rowling is a Christian. She was actually raised in a family that didn’t value church. She made the decision on her own and by herself she attended church growing up. She fell away from church as a young adult, but began attending again when she started working on Harry Potter (Wikipedia). As the series unfolded, she was reluctant to talk about her faith. Because this vision for her story came to her with the ending fully formed. Before she had thought through the beginning or the middle of the series, she knew how it would end. And you see, the ending is so thoroughly Christian, she was afraid if people knew she was a person of faith as they were reading, then they would also know how the story was going to end. Only after the books were concluded, did she begin talking about how her faith had informed her journey.

And in these books, we see Rowling pass on to Harry her own struggles, doubts, questions about life and about death. The injustice Rowling keeps front and center in the minds and hearts of her readers is that Harry suffers the loss of both his parents, right in front of his eyes, before he’s even two years old. He never gets to know these two amazing people who loved him so much. Instead he is raised in a home by an aunt and uncle who resent and despise him and make no secret of the fact. And Harry continues to battle loss in these books. He discovers he has a godfather and the two of them bond quickly only to have Harry lose another parental figure to death at the close of book 5. Harry also loses his mentor and teacher at the end of book 6. And each book really comes down to Harry fighting for his own life in some form or another.

Last week I mentioned that in the 7th book, two scripture passages appear. Of these texts Rowling has said, they epitomize the series as a whole. The first scripture is Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The second is

I Corinthians 15:26 and it appears on James and Lily Potter’s tombstone – “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” How is death destroyed? Through Love. At the end of book one, it’s Harry’s love for his parents that he never got to know and their love for him that destroys death. At the end of book two it’s our resurrection bird, the phoenix, that comes to rescue Harry because of the great love Harry shows for Dumbledore. At the end of book 3 death is defeated by Harry’s great love for his godfather. In each book, death is ultimately defeated by love. And we finally get to book 7, the ultimate showdown between good and evil. How does the gospel story end? With Crucifixion followed by Resurrection. Now, in the case of the gospel, this is Crucifixion and Resurrection with a big C and a big R. This is Christ’s sacrifice and glory.

But as followers, we are also asked to be part of crucifixion, to be part of sacrificial death and in so doing experience resurrection in a very personal way. And so Paul writes in Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” And our Hebrews text speaks of our Biblical forebears who died and were resurrected in Christ and who even now surround us as this great cloud of witnesses.

So as we come to the end of Harry’s story, it is fairly predictable that Harry, out of his great love for his friends, his school, for the sake of what is good and right will also die a sacrificial death. And in his death, he visits with his great mentor, Dumbledore, at the train station in London aptly named, “King’s Cross”. And Dumbledore tells Harry he has a choice. He can continue on, not into death, but into the purity of love, light and life or he can choose to go back and undergo a little more suffering and trials as he helps his community battle with Voldemort, with death, but with his assurance that in the end Love will win because Love always wins. Harry chooses to go back and in so doing, experiences resurrection, new life. And yes, Love wins.

There’s an aspect to this crazy quilt I didn’t call attention to earlier. That’s the stitching. In a crazy quilt the stitching is usually very noticeable. You know what that stitching represents? That stitching is resurrection – it’s the new life that holds all the piece of life together. You can see suffering and even death in some of these patches. You can see ordinary and happy and joy and celebration too. But resurrection is what ties it all together. Because our God is Love, he resurrected his Son so that we could all have new life and it is this new life that gives meaning to everything we go through in this earthly life.

In the book, How Harry Cast His Spell, author John Granger writes, “Paul teaches that ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23). Death, in other words, is the life spent in selfish pursuit of advantage rather than with the God who is Life and Love himself. This pseudo-life apart from God is a death worse than a physical death because it promises an eternity in darkness outside the glory of God. Human beings experience true life when they choose against death

and accept a life of love in resistance to selfishness and evil, spent in pursuit of communion with God, in victory over death made possible by the life and the death-destroying Resurrection of Christ.”

I’ve officiated at some really heartrending funerals. But you want to know the most difficult funeral I’ve led? Years ago, I did a funeral at a mortuary for a man who had just the most tenuous connection to the church I was pastoring. In attendance at that funeral were three people – myself, the funeral director and a church member who came to support me. That’s all there was. I didn’t know this person other than that he was likely abusive and not very nice. I had no memories from friends, from family – only an elderly sister who lived on the east coast who wanted to make sure a pastor did the service for her brother. But the sister didn’t offer me any pieces of material either. I knew the fabric was there. We all create material with our lives. But his couldn’t be spoken and without the fabric there wasn’t much I could do with the thread. It felt hopeless, bleak and as the funeral director and I drove out to the cemetery we both reflected on the tragedy of his death. In a heartbeat I would choose to do a one square or a five square or a 15 square crazy quilt funeral over ever needing to do one where I couldn’t speak confidently about the thread of resurrection in someone’s life.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Of course, Paul is speaking here about a time yet coming, when God will finally vanquish death once and for all and what a glorious day that will be! But until then, I think we begin with our ending in mind. Rowling, as a Christian, began her epic Harry Potter adventure with the ending firmly written in her mind and heart – crucifixion and resurrection, death defeated, Love triumphant. We look out at our view of hope across the road and despite all the tragedies, the premature sorrows, still we see a rich heritage of victory over death, of resurrection love conquering all. And we know, in the deepest places in our souls, we know that in our own lives, there in the midst of ordinary, of celebration, of heartache, of loss, of joy, all these pieces God is stitching together with the thread of resurrection, the ultimate sacrifice of Love, making out of our lives a testimony to that which is pleasing, is beautiful, is redeemed in the eyes of God. Thanks BE to God!

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