The Rev. Dr. Alison L. Boden
Princeton University Chapel
April 1, 2018
Not too many years ago, after publishing the final installment in the Harry Potter series, its author J.K. Rowling gave an interview. She’d given countless interviews as the books and movies were coming out, but in this particular interview, after the last volume was public, she shared with her interviewer the fact that her Christian faith is an important part of her life. The interviewer noted to Rowling that she had actually never before mentioned this significant aspect of her life, and Ms. Rowling responded, “Well, I didn’t want to give away the ending.”
I find it very moving that Joanna Rowling would think that the reading public, if they knew that she was a Christian, might connect the dots of her own belief in the resurrection of Christ to her series’ great finale—that we would all read her books and say, “Hmm—here’s one way this might all come to an end. A Christian author would have no issue with a character being killed off and then coming back from the dead.” This is what happens in the page-turning conclusion (and pardon me if I should have issued a spoiler alert). Harry Potter is killed by the arch-villain; he is really and truly dead for hours. But as dawn breaks and the villain lays Harry’s scarred and broken body at the feet of his devastated but still brave, resisting friends, Harry returns to life, and he defeats the forces of death forever. Love wins. Friendship wins. Goodness wins. It’s an entirely and intentionally secular tale, but one cherished as truth in its biblical telling by a Christian author who didn’t want her beliefs to tip off her readers. She didn’t want to give away the ending.
Giving away the ending. That’s not a problem for me, professionally—I’m not creating fictional work in any medium; maybe you are. Giving away the ending—lets reflect together on this Resurrection morning about what that means for our daily lives, and for our work too. Those of us not creating fiction aren’t just free to do it, we are freed when we do it. We tell the truth we know. We tell the saving truth. Let’s give away the ending; let’s tell the story, every minute of our lives, of Christ’s resurrection from the dead and of the place of resurrection within our own lives and also our deaths.
In some of the oldest texts of the Christian tradition, the Gnostic Gospels, comes the injunction to “live like you are going to rise.” Live like you are going to rise—what hope that has to engender, what hope and joy and confidence and faith that has to inspire in the heart of every person who believes in Resurrection—resurrection for their Lord and therefore resurrection for those who worship him. Live like you are going to rise—even in the face of a brutal exam or thesis, even when love pulls up stakes and departs, even when hopes for the future unravel, even when a sense of purpose just can’t be grasped. Live like you are going to rise—even in the face of cruelty or unfairness, even in the face of oppression or violence, even in the face of the most challenging medical diagnosis—live like you are going to rise. Live like you are going to rise when your world is blooming, when joy abounds, when love comes to town. Live out of faith, hope, and love, and you will give away the ending to every person who encounters you! Let’s make every moment of our lives be one that makes others say, as Joanna Rowling worried about herself, “Now there’s someone who believes in resurrection!”
An ancient benediction of the church says, “May you fear God so much that you fear nothing at all.” The word we translate as “fear” in the first phrase can also be translated as “love”: “May you love God so much that you fear nothing at all.” What a call to courageous living! What a call to audacity! What a call to conviction, and to centering the whole of our lives upon the beautiful, weird, non-rational, absurd, true promise of resurrection. Today is April Fool’s Day but it’s no joke! What an invitation to give away the ending every blooming minute we have breath.
Speaking of blooms, Martin Luther wrote, “Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” We are surrounded, friends, by so many people and things that are giving away the ending—that are telling the story of resurrection. There are the crocuses and daffodils to be sure, and the forsythia which, although I have lived around the globe, I find to be no bolder and no more beautiful a testimony to the resurrection than right here in central New Jersey. Let’s consider this morning not only our own lives and how they can give away the ending, but also the testimonies around us.
I think that the children in Parkland, Florida are testifying to resurrection. Their friends are dead. They are really and truly dead, and these young people stepped over their bodies on Valentine’s Day, or hid in closets and corners, they threw their shaking hands in the air as SWAT teams cleared the school from room to room. But they won’t let death and violence have the last word. They want new life and they are demanding it. They are not wrong to think that sensible gun laws could be the future in an advanced democracy. They see that future, and they are giving away the ending, as they demand that we see it, too.
A friend of mine is giving away the ending, testifying to the resurrection in his work to build a network of opportunities for people who’ve suffered violence at each other’s hands to become reconciled to one another, to find lasting healing, so that not just the violence but the life long and multigenerational pain can be eased. Peace agreements don’t last long without the reconciliation that draws on heart, mind, and spirit. Violence must not have the last, dehumanizing word, but rather the re-humanizing of enemies one to another in a new life together of fairness and hope. My friend will not let death or violence or hatred have the last word. This is resurrection work!
Resurrection signs are everywhere! And yet we miss them; our lives become so small when we only see what we expect. God’s imagination is so much larger than ours; God’s power is infinitely larger than ours; God’s resurrecting work in the world is universally larger than our power to grasp or articulate. And yet our joy and our faithful project remains to be to testify to all the resurrection work we do know, to give away the ending every moment of our lives.
I think that the powerful attraction of the Harry Potter stories upon millions around the world has to do with their presentation of an alternate reality, one of wonder and power and beauty and enchantment captured in the world of magic—the wizarding world. It’s a world that is hidden from common view, a world that only some people see and know. The rest, the Muggles, the very common and un-enchanted people, experience the tangential effects of the magical world and don’t even know it. Underneath it all is a growing reign of terror, headed by an arch-villain and by his associates who have turned from goodness to align themselves with a quest for power that wants only power, and that can and does kill everyone who gets in its way. The underside of wonder and magic is terror and death.
I suggest on this Easter morning that this is the world we know as well—one of enchantment, wonder, beauty, of friendship and deepest love and meaning. We live in a resurrection world where God is ultimately all in all, and everything we have ever truly to fear has been vanquished by Christ’s empty tomb. And yet, this world of grace, mystery, and salvation floats atop and coexists with an underside not unlike that of Joanna Rowling’s imagination—one of violence, of greed for power that does not flinch at killing, and that co-opts those who once were good, convincing them of an upside-down view of truth and goodness, and before they know it they’ve become what they once hated. The miracle of Easter and of every day floats atop so much violence, evil, and killing. It takes so many forms—white supremacy, the moralizing deprivation of resources from the addicted, the poor, and immigrants, the sequestering of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer persons, the degradation of the natural world. We present an alternative as we testify to Christ’s resurrection with the story line of our own lives. We know this resurrection world of mystery, power, love, and grace. We know how this story ends—in resurrection! So, let’s give away the ending––every day.
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