One of the most exquisite and heartbreaking chapters in the Harry Potter series comes right near the end of the final book. Harry has realised his only hope of saving the wizarding world is to allow Voldemort to kill him, without defending himself. So he dons his Invisibility Cloak and walks towards the forest where Voldemort waits.
No matter how many times I reread the book, this chapter always brings me to tears. We experience how Harry’s body reacts—his beating heart, his longing to live, and his clear-headed determination to sacrifice himself.
And I wonder…is this how Jesus felt as he walked to the cross?
Of course, we don’t know Jesus’ thoughts as God hasn’t given us them in the Bible. We can’t place our own ideas upon Jesus and must be careful about saying this is what he experienced. But considering how Jesus might have felt helps me to more deeply comprehend his love.
J.K. Rowling brilliantly describes Harry’s walk in slow motion; we see and feel every emotion along with him.
He felt his heart pounding fiercely in his chest. How strange that in his dread of death, it pumped all the harder, valiantly keeping him alive. But it would have to stop, and soon. Its beats were numbered. How many would there be time for, as he rose and walked through the castle for the last time, out into the grounds and into the Forest?
When I think of the bravery it took for a seventeen-year-old to walk willingly to his death, I can’t help but echo the words Dumbledore later says to him “Harry, you wonderful boy, you brave, brave man.”
Harry’s reaction to his impending death was profoundly human. Surely Jesus—this man who hungered and cried and slept—would have experienced something similar in his own body and soul. How long did Jesus’ walk feel to him, staggering under the weight of the heavy cross he would soon be nailed to? We often speed past this part in our Bibles, keen to get to the main event of the crucifixion. But it’s worth it to pay attention to his mingled emotional and physical agony.
Jesus had already experienced betrayal and abandonment by his closest friends. Then he is flogged and mocked by the soldiers, and he knows that worse was to come—not just the prolonged physical torture, but the agony of bearing all the sins of his people. Seven hundred years earlier, the prophet Isaiah had foretold what would happen to the promised Messiah:
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)
We can’t ignore the physical torment Jesus faced either. At least Harry faced the probability of a quick death. Voldemort’s fondness for the classic villain monologue had allowed Harry to escape him before, so he wouldn’t want to take any chances. Indeed, when Harry reaches him Voldemort quickly casts the killing curse.
Jesus’ death was different, and he knew it would be. His back had already been ripped to shreds by the soldiers’ whips. The cross was such a terrible burden on his flayed flesh that somebody else had to carry it for him. His determination to walk towards his death, knowing what it entailed, makes him even more extraordinary than this brave teenager.
Their hearts beat with love
Harry didn’t have to do this. His friends were willing to defend him, to keep fighting right up until the end. He wasn’t forced into that forest or prevented from turning back. But the consequences would have been terrible if he had fled. Nobody else could have killed Voldemort. Countless people would have died, probably including Harry himself, and the world would be crippled under Voldemort’s tyrannical rule.
While Harry contemplates his death, he wishes that he could have faced death in a different way—being killed quickly in a battle, or throwing himself in front of a wand to save someone he loved: “This cold-blooded walk to his own destruction would require a different kind of bravery.”
What enabled him to persevere? It was only love. Harry is naturally brave, the perennial Gryffindor. But surely this remarkable act of courage requires something bigger. He wasn’t laying down his life for ideals or aspirations, but for the flesh-and-blood people he passes on his way to the forest.
Jesus could have walked away too. He had all the power of God at his disposal. Even while hanging on the cross he could have called for angels to come and save him. And the consequences would have been far more terrible if Jesus had decided to rescue himself instead of bearing our sins. Not a single person would be saved. We would all come before the judgment throne of God and be rightly condemned, thrown into the lake of fire.
So Jesus was propelled forward by love too. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16). Unlike Harry, he wasn’t dying for worthy and good people who continued to fight for him. Jesus, who is God in human form (Philippians 2:8), lowered himself to die for the friends who’d abandoned him, for the soldiers who drove nails through his hands, for us unworthy sinners who forsake him daily.
With Harry’s every resolute step, with Jesus’ every stagger under the cross, we see their determination to die for those they love. As admirable as Harry’s courage is, Jesus’ love was even more strange and wonderful.
To what end?
The thing that truly sets Jesus’ sacrifice apart from Harry’s is what he achieved. Harry may have saved the wizarding world from Voldemort, but he couldn’t bring back the friends who had already died or keep everyone he loved alive forever.
When Jesus went to the cross it wasn’t a fatalistic walk to his own destruction so others could go on in this painful world a little bit longer. It was intentional. He and the Father had planned this before they created the atoms in cross Jesus carried.
It was all to save us from our sin: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). His death wasn’t the end. Harry may have survived because of the deep magic that protected him, but it didn’t make him immortal. Jesus rose from the dead because of his own power. He defeated death forever, so those who trust in Jesus will rise to enjoy eternal life with him. As I read Harry’s journey into the forest, I can’t help but remember what Jesus has done for me and turn to worship him. He accomplished so much more.
This is what good literature does for us—it allows us to comprehend, at least in part, the experiences of another which we have never faced. That chapter in Harry Potter gives me a glimpse into the unfathomably deep love of Jesus. He is greater than any hero that can be conjured up by a skilled pen.
At its core the Harry Potter series is about love; about friendship and sacrifice and loyalty. It’s a wonderful story that points me to the true story. I weep all through this chapter for Harry, whom I have loved for many years; and for Jesus, who has loved me far longer.