Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Love and Lumos: Allusions to God in Harry Potter and Its Application to the Lenten Journey within an Anglican Parish

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Love and Lumos: Allusions to God in Harry Potter and Its Application to the Lenten Journey within an Anglican Parish

Article excerpt


In the entire Harry Potter series, there are only two biblical quotations. Both quotations occur in the seventh novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when Harry Potter and Hermione Granger enter the cemetery in Godric's Hollow on Christmas Eve. As they move through the cemetery, they come across the tombstone of Kendra and Ariana Dumbledore where they read, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (2) Shortly afterwards they find the tombstone of Harry's parents, James and Lily Potter, and on that tombstone is carved, "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." (3) When asked about these quotations in an interview at a press conference for the release of the final book, J. K. Rowling explains, "I think those two particular quotations he finds on the tombstones at Godric's Hollow, they sum up--they almost epitomize the whole series." (4) Yet as it turns out, these two quotations also frame the Lenten journey.

For if we take these two quotations and consider their placement within the Revised Common Lectionary, we discover that they actually bookend the Christian experience of Lent. The first quotation, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," is from Matthew 6:21, which is the final verse of the gospel reading on Ash Wednesday. The second quotation, "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death," (1 Corinthians 15:26) is from a passage describing the centrality of the resurrection, and is the last verse of the epistle reading for Easter Sunday.

While I do not believe J. K. Rowling selected these quotations with the Revised Common Lectionary in hand, I hope through this paper to point out a unique opportunity in which the seven novels of the Harry Potter series can be used to form an underlying narrative for a progressive sermon series that will guide a congregation simultaneously through the spiritual trajectory of the Lenten season with the narrative trajectory of the Harry Potter series. Recent results from two congregations will show that there is an approach in which this can be done that is both respectful and rewarding for those who have never heard of Harry Potter, as well as those who have never heard the Christian metanarrative, and, in fact, has provided additional opportunities for the congregations to connect with unchurched members of the community.

The Lenten Journey

One commentator by the name of Connie Neal has said that the Harry Potter series is the "greatest evangelistic opportunity the church has ever missed." (5) Though I think she's overstating her point, she's not that far off the mark, because the only other book that has outsold the Harry Potter series is the Bible, and frankly I don't know of anyone who would line up at midnight at a bookstore eager to devour the newest translation of the Bible. But the Harry Potter series does not have to be a missed opportunity because at a foundational level, the Harry Potter series explores the universal struggle between good and evil and the redemptive power of love which happens to mirror the Lenten journey that many traditional Anglican parishes engage in on an annual basis.

Yet even with the Revised Common Lectionary, it's rare to find any two Anglican churches doing the same thing for Lent. Each individual parish or congregation develops over time its own unique expression of the Lenten journey, perhaps because the origins of Lent are complex and confusing. The fifth-century Byzantine historian Socrates describes his understanding of the differing Lenten observances in this way:

"The fasts before Easter will be found to be differently observed among different people. Those at Rome fast three successive weeks before Easter, excepting Saturdays and Sundays. Those in Illyrica and all over Greece and Alexandria observe a fast of six weeks, which they term 'the forty days' fast.' Others commencing their fast from the seventh week before Easter, and fast three to five days only, and that at intervals, yet call that time 'the forty days' fast. …

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