He closed his eyes and turned the [Resurrection] stone over in his hand three times.
He knew it had happened, because he heard slight movements around him that suggested frail bodies shifting their footing on the earthy, twig-strewn ground that marked the outer edge of the forest. He opened his eyes and looked around.
They were neither ghost nor truly flesh, he could see that … Less substantial than living bodies, but much more than ghosts, they moved toward him, and on each face, there was the same loving smile.
James was exactly the same height as Harry. He was wearing the clothes in which he had died, and his hair was untidy and ruffled, and his glasses were a little lopsided, like Mr. Weasley’s.
Sirius was tall and handsome, and younger by far than Harry had seen him in life. He loped with an easy grace, his hands in his pockets and a grin on his face.
Lupin was younger too, and much less shabby, and his hair was thicker and darker. He looked happy to be back in this familiar place, scene of so many adolescent wanderings. Lily’s smile was widest of all. She pushed her long hair back as she drew close to him …
“You’ve been so brave.”
He could not speak. His eyes feasted on her, and he thought that he would like to stand and look at her forever, and that would be enough.
“You are nearly there,” said James. “Very close. We are…so proud of you.”
“Does it hurt?”
The childish question had fallen from Harry’s lips before he could stop it.
“Dying? Not at all,” said Sirius. “Quicker and easier than falling asleep.” …
A chilly breeze that seemed to emanate from the heart of the forest lifted the hair at Harry’s brow. He knew that they would not tell him to go, that it would have to be his decision.
“You’ll stay with me?”
“Until the very end,” said James.
“They won’t be able to see you?” asked Harry.
“We are part of you,” said Sirius. “Invisible to anyone else.”
Harry looked at his mother.
“Stay close to me,” he said quietly…
Beside him, making scarcely a sound, walked James, Sirius, Lupin, and Lily, and their presence was his courage, and the reason he was able to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
–Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, chapter 34
I love this scene. If you’re not familiar with this last book in the series, Harry has just learned that he must hand himself over to the Dark Lord to be killed in order to save his friends. On his way to his death, he finds the Resurrection Stone and through it, he encounters his parents, his godfather, and his favorite teacher, who have all died fighting the Dark Lord. Their example, their encouragement, and their presence with him give him the strength to sacrifice himself.
I found myself thinking about this scene as the church celebrated All Saints Day this week. Christians say in the creed that we believe in the communion of saints, but we have very different understandings of what this means. In the broadest sense, I think different Christian traditions can agree that in Christ we are one with all the saints, both the living and the dead, and that they can be examples of faith to us, a “great cloud of witnesses” who testify to God’s faithfulness. Their courage can encourage us, as Harry’s companions did for him.
As a Protestant, I’m a little wary of placing too much importance on the saints. What’s the point of “praying” to them if Jesus is our perfect Mediator and Advocate? Isn’t there some danger that we will focus on the saints at the expense of focusing on Jesus?
Yes, I think so. But, as one of my Catholic friends explained to me, asking a saint in glory to pray for you is not much different from asking a saint on earth to pray for you. Christ’s intercession for us is irreplaceable, but somehow, in the mystery of the body of Christ, we need to ask others to intercede for us as well. And those who have died, who now behold God face to face, are able to pray for us unhindered by earthly distraction.
Protestants are familiar with all sorts of misunderstandings and superstition that can result from the invocation of the saints. The Anglican church, to which I belong, has traditionally rejected the invocation of the saints entirely in order to avoid unhealthy preoccupation with them. Like Harry, we may wish to stand and look at them forever, thinking that that will be enough.
Perhaps Protestants will one day work out a theology that allows for the invocation of the saints while avoiding the potential dangers and abuses of this practice. But wherever Christians of many traditions stand on this issue, I think we can all find our ultimate comfort in the omnipresence of God while also finding comfort in the presence of those who have fought the good fight and finished the race. You are nearly there, they are saying to us.
O Almighty God, who by thy Holy Spirit hast made us one with thy saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may ever be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and may know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to thy power and mercy. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who liveth and reigneth for ever and ever. Amen.
–Collect from the Book of Common Prayer