It’s the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. What does that have to do with Harry Potter? I don’t try to hide the fact that I’m a Harry Potter fangirl. I’m often reflecting on the plot and themes, whether kids should read the series, and how Molly Weasley is fantastic.
(SPOILER ALERT: Do not continue if you haven’t completed the series.)
One of the most memorable scenes in the series depicts the last moments of Hogwarts Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore’s life. He arrives at the tallest tower of the Hogwarts castle in a weakened state when a boy–Harry’s nemesis, Draco Malfoy–arrives on the scene with the intent to murder him. Harry helplessly watches the whole exchange. Dumbledore has frozen him so that he cannot interfere and be in danger.
Dumbledore’s attitude is remarkable. He does not seem afraid or threatened. He begins talking to Draco in a way that is not only dignified but offers dignity to his would-be killer.
At one point Draco comments, “You’re in my power…I’m the one with the wand…You are at my mercy.” And indeed, it appears that way. Dumbledore has been disarmed. He is weak. And a healthy young man is pointing a wand at him with the intent to kill.
But Dumbledore responds in a surprisingly way: “No, Draco. It is my mercy, not yours, that matters now.”
What a strange thing for a powerless man to say! But is it strange? Perhaps the real problem is that we misunderstand the meaning of true power.
In modern fantasy, this theme of self-sacrifice conquering the most powerful foes comes up again and again. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, the White Witch foolishly thinks she can conquer the lion Aslan by killing him. Her obsession with power makes it impossible for her to comprehend that death is no match for the deep and ancient magic of sacrificial love Aslan will awaken when he lays down his life for those he loves. When things seem most hopeless, love turns the tables (or in this case, the table is broken by the power of love).
Tolkien’s weak little hobbits begin a quest that seems so foolhardy that it’s barely noticed by the evil Sauron who seeks to destroy all they love–but despite all odds, friendship, courage, and love are stronger than armies of orcs. And the mercy of Frodo toward the undeserving Gollum, results in the salvation of Middle-earth.
And here in Rowling’s world, we have Dumbledore patiently trying to explain to Draco that power lies in sacrifice, love, and mercy, not in a well-aimed weapon.
All of these stories make me think of The Story, the cosmic story: God’s love for humanity is victorious at just the moment when hope is almost gone. There is God himself on the Cross. Powerless, weak, being executed at our demand. Jesus is in our power. In the hands of a broken humanity that would rather kill God than face our need for Him. He is at our mercy.
But it is his mercy that matters now. “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” We call for his blood, and he pours it out over our heads, not to condemn us, but to heal us and wash us clean. He is the one with the power, because his love surpasses death. Because his death redeems his killers. Holy victim. Spotless victim. Christ the King.
It is His mercy that matters now. And He offers it to us with arms open wide, nailed by us to the Cross, yet ready to embrace us if only we will run to him.