Do you remember this scene from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets? Harry discovers that the diary he’s found “writes back to him.”
Harry sat on his four-poster and flicked through the blank pages, not one of which had a trace of scarlet ink on it. Then he pulled a new bottle out of his bedside cabinet, dipped his quill into it, and dropped a blot onto the first page of the diary.
The ink shone brightly on the paper for a second and then, as though it was being sucked into the page, vanished. Excited, Harry loaded up his quill a second time and wrote, “My name is Harry Potter.”
The words shone momentarily on the page and they, too, sank without trace. Then, at last, something happened.
Oozing back out of the page, in his very own ink, came words Harry had never written.
“Hello, Harry Potter. My name is Tom Riddle. How did you come by my diary?”
These words, too, faded away, but not before Harry had started to scribble back.
“Someone tried to flush it down a toilet,”
He waited eagerly for Riddle’s reply.
“Lucky that I recorded my memories in some more lasting way than ink. But I always knew that there would be those who would not want this diary read” (240).
Why Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on this Octave of Easter? It’s my way of running up to the Gospel of St. John, which recovers an essential, and yet often neglected, element of the mystery that we call Easter. “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit’” (Jn 20: 21-22).
A notion akin to that of an interlocutory diary — finding someone who talks back when and where that’s not to be expected — lies at the very core of the Easter experience, so much so that one should say that two persons emerged from that empty tomb: the Jesus whom the disciples had always known, even if radically transformed, and another interlocutor, someone who spoke in the depths of their hearts, who illumined their minds when they now heard the scriptures read, someone whose power and presence suffused both their daily activities and the extraordinary actions, which they now found themselves doing in the name of Jesus. Above all, this other presence birthed and buttressed their liturgy, the sacraments of “water and blood,” Baptism and Eucharist.
St. Luke’s Gospel draws this Easter mystery into a lattice-work of forty days, and our liturgical celebrations follow suite, so much so that Pentecost can appear as an event that simply happens to occur at the end of the Easter season, without easily evident linkage to it. It was quite the contrary in the experience of the disciples. In those first days of Easter, they suddenly found themselves encountered by, and engaged with, two persons: the Jesus who had returned, and this other presence, this other person, this spirit.
Often in catechesis, the Holy Spirit seems the hardest of characters to identify. We know who Jesus is, and the fact that he spoke of a Father gives us warrant, even if the picture is woefully inadequate, to think that we know who that is. That can lead to the naive, but helpful, question: why then do we speak of a Holy Spirit? Often questions that appear naive are the most fruitful, because they cut away layers of accumulated obfuscation.
Certainly we speak of a Holy Spirit because Jesus did so, and yet, behind our Gospel accounts, lies the experience of the primitive Church. They knew a Holy Spirit; they felt and encountered a presence, a person, who simply couldn’t be reduced to that of Jesus. Two emerged from that tomb, not one. Indeed, without this interlocutory, this speaking, Spirit, one experienced so deeply within themselves, they could not have comprehended the mystery of the Glorified Jesus who stood before them. “The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth” (1 Jn 5: 6)
Diaries are intended to be passive recipients of our thoughts. They aren’t supposed to write back. If they did, we would be as startled as Harry, but that ‘s precisely what happened to the disciples. They found themselves hearing, and speaking to, a mysterious presence that couldn’t be reduced to either Jesus or themselves. This was neither the Jesus whom they had known nor a product of their own imaginations. Indeed, they hadn’t anticipated encountering either Jesus or Spirit.
One might put it this way: Jesus was back, not only in front of them in the apparitions but also, literally, for the first time within them, in the form of inspiration. How could that be, unless Jesus was himself more than one?
Of course, attentive readers of Harry Potter know that the presence emerging from Tom Riddle’s diary was not benign. The diary was a “first sacrament” for something, someone, much more sinister to come. That’s where the parallel ends, but it’s terribly important for us to understand that the reason we, the Church, still confess Jesus to be Lord of the Living is because we have felt something, not ourselves, when we read the scriptures, when we celebrate our sacraments, when we pray, above all in our sacred liturgy. We know that Jesus lives, because we have “received the holy Spirit,” and “this Spirit is the one who testifies.”
Rev. Terrance W. Klein