Sometimes it’s the seemingly small things in a story that mean a great deal. In the Harry Potter series, we are introduced to the Golden Snitch during Harry’s first Quidditch match, the broomstick flying sport played in J.K. Rowling’s imaginary world. Harry’s position is seeker, and his main job is to catch the snitch, a small golden orb with wings, flittering around the Quidditch pitch like a hummingbird. In the opening book of the series, Harry ultimately catches the snitch in his first match, but accidentally with his mouth. Harry wins the match for Gryffindor House over their rivals Slytherin, and he learns he loves Quidditch and being a seeker trying to find that ever elusive snitch.
An Easter sermon based on Matthew 28:1-10
In his gospel narrative, Matthew focuses in on the stone rolled in front of Jesus’ tomb. In our Passion reading last Sunday, we heard how the religious authorities went before Pilate asking that the tomb be made secure so Jesus’ followers can’t come and steal the body claiming he was raised. Pilate allows it, so a troop of guards is sent and the stone is sealed shut. And now this morning we hear what happens early on the first day of the week as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary make their way to the tomb. An angel of the Lord blazing like lightning comes down causing a big earthquake and rolls the stone back. Not only that, Matthew tells us, the dazzling angel then hops on top of that stone like a kid sitting on a fence, kicking his legs without a care in the world.
The angel terrifies the guards who are there, causing them all to fall to the ground as if they were dead. The two Marys take this all in, and I’m certain they are quite shocked by it all too. And that’s when the angel addresses them from his perch on top of the stone: “Do not be afraid,” the angel declares, “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here for he has been raised, just as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee, and there you will see him.’”
We know what happens next. The Marys turn around filled with both fear and great joy, and then they bump into Jesus on their way. He waves his hand and says to them, “Hey!” or perhaps “Greetings!” if he was feeling a bit more formal on that Sunday morning. And then they fall before him, holding on to his feet as they worshipped him. Then he says the same thing as the angel—who apparently is still there on top of the stone—“Don’t be afraid. Tell my disciples to go to Galilee where I will meet them.”
But its that huge round stone that I can’t get out of my head this year. The stone that was sealed by the guards and that the angel pushed out of the way. I can’t stop thinking about it because of one thing: Jesus didn’t need to have the stone rolled back so he could break out of the tomb. It wasn’t as if after the angel rolled it back and scrambled on top of it that Jesus poked his head around from behind that massive stone checking things out that morning. Neither was Jesus replaying the scene we heard in church a couple of weeks ago about Lazarus being called out from a different tomb when that stone was rolled back. In that story Lazarus emerges from the tomb shuffling his feet because he was all bound up like a mummy. Not a chance this time. The angel rolled away that sealed stone not so Jesus could get an escape route but to show the guards and the women that the tomb was already empty. Jesus didn’t have to have the stone rolled back. It was rolled back for us.
Without it being rolled back, we could easily deny the resurrection. We could pretend that the resurrection didn’t happen.
A number of years ago I attended a conference that included a talk from Peter Rollins, a progressive philosopher and theologian who grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. He recounted a time when he was invited to a conservative Christian college to be a part of a panel discussion. Near the end of that conversation a student came up to the microphone and said to him, “Pete, just admit it. You deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” He described how he could feel every eye in that gathering focused squarely on him, including from the other panelists. He responded, “You got me. I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ.” He said you could hear a pin drop in that room. Then he continued, “I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.”
But Pete wasn’t finished yet. “However,” he said, “there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.” If it hadn’t been for that rolled back stone, it would be far easier for us to deny the resurrection and all that it means. Without that stone, we would be hard pressed to affirm the power of Jesus’ resurrection.
That seemingly insignificant first golden snitch that Harry caught in his mouth reappears in the last installment of the series. When his mentor Albus Dumbledore dies, Harry is left that very same snitch in Dumbledore’s bequest. When it’s touched, the words “I open at the close” magically appear. Harry holds onto that snitch in a pouch around his neck, uncertain of what it means. And then, in the closing scenes as Harry approaches the climax in his confrontation with the evil Voldemort, it becomes clear to him. Harry brings the snitch to his mouth—snitches remember human touch, and since Harry caught it in his mouth, it was his lips that were important—and it opens up for him. Inside is the resurrection stone—a stone with immense power that brings Harry reassurance, strength, and comfort as he offers his life for his friends. Through the power of that stone, he experiences courage and love, and because of that, he is able to ultimately overcome Voldemort.
Friends, we gather on this Easter morning to hear once more the good news of Jesus Christ who was in fact raised from the dead. His resurrection shown to us by that empty tomb, pronounces that “God acts at the boundary of life we call death and does something altogether new,” as Professor Cameron Murchinson describes it. Because of the seemingly minor detail of that rolled back stone, Prof. Murchinson says “we are confronted with God’s possibilities and not our own.” Possibilities of hope and love which stand in stark contrast to the ways of fear and desolation that often pervade our culture. No longer under the power of death, Jesus abandons that tomb in order to establish a kingdom that brings healing and wholeness and unspeakable joy to the world. Jesus’ way of love is proclaimed to all of us when that glittering angel rolled back the stone.
And now we are called to affirm Jesus’ resurrection through the ways in which we bring life to those who are oppressed, in offering a healing hand to those in need, and when we stand up with those who have been marginalized by the powers of evil in our world. We are called to look into that empty tomb and see the possibilities God has for this tired old world of ours. Possibilities of so much goodness and grace and joy and hope and love that we cannot even fully imagine it. Possibilities of life when far too often all we see is death. So let us heed the words of that angel swinging his feet on top of that enormous stone: “Do not be afraid, for Jesus who was crucified has been raised.” And his love does indeed change the world.