“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Protective Power of Sacrificial Love in Harry Potter

In Deathly Hallows, the series culminates with an event remarkably similar to that with which it begins – the sacrifice of Harry’s parents, which is, again, a foundational backdrop to Harry’s journey. Voldemort confronts Harry with the choice between giving his own life and letting his friends die (for more, see “I must die. It must end”), and Harry gives his life. Because of his sacrifice, his friends are shielded from harm in the final battle:

“I’ve done what my mother did, and that’s what did it. They’re protected from you. Haven’t you noticed how none of the spells you put on them are binding? You can’t torture them. You can’t touch them. You don’t learn from your mistakes, Riddle, do you?” (DH 591)
In both cases, there is power in self-giving, sacrificial love – a power that protects, even saves. The love shown is self-emptying love, love unto death. Lily’s love, shown in her sacrificial death, shields Harry, and Harry’s love, demonstrated in his willingness to die, shields his friends.

One final passage is well worth noting. At the end of Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore explains more fully how Harry’s mother’s love has remained with him, a powerful protective shield. Love, says Dumbledore, is
“…an ancient magic of which [Voldemort] knows, which he despises, and which he has always, therefore, underestimated…a protection that runs in your veins to this day. I put my trust, therefore, in your mother’s blood…Your mother’s sacrifice made the bond of blood the strongest shield I could give you…While you can still call home the place where your mother’s blood dwells, there you cannot be touched or harmed by Voldemort. He shed her blood, but it lives on in you and her sister. Her blood became your refuge.” (OotP 836)
Consider the language Rowling uses in this and other passages to describe love and sacrifice: powerful, protection, mark, shield, “her blood became your refuge.” The idea of this power residing in blood is important, as we will see later. In both the language used, and in the events narrated, there is a definite Christian theme. We find a reflection or image of Christ’s love for us, which, Like Harry’s, was effective and powerful because it saved us by shielding us from just condemnation. Christ gave himself unto death (Philippians 2:7-8) out of love for us (Romans 5:8), and through his death we are shielded from condemnation for sin (this message is repeated throughout the New Testament – it is the essence of Christianity). In Christ’s sacrificial death, which is the fullest and highest revelation of God’s love for us, there is power to save man from spiritual death, that is, protection from harm to our souls:
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13 (see also John 10:11, 1 John 3:16, Galatians 2:20)

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8

“Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45

“Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” – Ephesians 5:2 (see also 1 John 4:10)
Lily took Harry’s place, Harry took his friends’ place, laid his life down, exchanged or substituted it (“kill me instead” cries Lily), and in this there is a power that protects, even saves. Very Christian. Of course, words such as salvation, redemption, and substitution are never used explicitly in Harry Potter, but the attentive reader will find that the ideas are definitely present.

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