In May I’ll be teaching a Sunday school class at my church on the Communion of Saints. I know, that’s not really a hot topic for Baptists, but strangely enough that is what they wanted me to talk about. So I’ll take a couple of weeks to look at how the dead were remembered and reverenced in ancient Israel and the surrounding cultures, unpack a bit of church history about the development of early Christian devotion to the saints, and cap it off by trying to raise questions about how twenty-first-century Protestants might think about all of this in fresh ways while remaining true to their theological convictions.
Probably because I’ve been reading (for the second or third time) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with my daughter for the last few weeks, I began to notice a couple of days ago that the Boy Who Lived himself might provide some help in shaping that last session.
Maybe I’m the last person in the world to notice this, but the Harry Potter novels actually have quite a bit to say about how the living can interact with the dead, and the benefits that accrue such relationships. For example:
- We can draw strength generally from the memory of what they mean to us, as with Harry’s Patronus (and Snape’s). Need I mention that patronus is Latin for “patron [saint]”?
- We can imaginatively relive their experiences to gain wisdom and insight, as with Dumbledore’s Pensieve.
- We can keep around us reminders of their former presence, which still speak to us in their customary tones. The talking, moving paintings that adorn the halls of Hogwarts are the prime example.
- Finally, we can interact directly with whatever part of them remains accessible to the living, as with the Hogwarts ghosts or the “shadows” invoked by the Resurrection Stone.
I’m thinking only the last of these may be theologically problematic for traditional Protestants.