London’s Kings Cross Station boasts the most famous train platform in the world. Most of us first heard of it when mean old Uncle Vernon asked Harry Potter, “Where is this school anyway?”
“I don’t know,” said Harry, realizing this for the first time. He pulled the ticket Hagrid had given him out of his pocket.
“I just take the train from platform nine and three-quarters at eleven o’clock,” he read.
His aunt and uncle stared.
“Nine and three-quarters.”
“Don’t talk rubbish,” said Uncle Vernon. “There is no platform nine and three-quarters.”
“It’s on my ticket.”
Harry has the promise of a platform and a ticket that says there is such a platform but nothing more. Uncle Vernon thinks it to be rubbish. In its way, Platform 9 3/4 is what Lent is all about. Will we act on the promise? Will we find a new world, a new way of life? Or, will we stay scared, like Uncle Vernon, in our own small worlds?
In its way, Platform 9 3/4 is what Lent is all about. Will we act on the promise? Will we find a new world?
But, at King’s Cross Station, look as he will, Harry cannot see Platform 9 3/4. That’s because it is enchanted. It is not part of a graceless world.
There was nothing else for it.
“Excuse me,” Harry said to the plump woman.
“Hello, dear,” she said. “First time at Hogwarts? Ron’s new, too.”
She pointed at the last and youngest of her sons. He was tall, thin, and gangling, with freckles, big hands and feet, and a long nose.
“Yes, said Harry. “The thing is—the thing is, I don’t know how to—”
“How to get onto the platform?” she said kindly, and Harry nodded.
“Not to worry,” she said. “All you have to do is walk straight at the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Don’t stop and don’t be scared you’ll crash into it, that’s very important. Best do it at a bit of a run if you’re nervous. Go on, go now before Ron.”
On Ash Wednesday, the church called us to travel, in liturgy and in acts of personal asceticism, to a place we’ve never been: new life in the resurrected Christ. Granted, come Easter most of us are still going to be right where we began in our quite ordinary worlds because—when you think about it—death itself is the Hogwarts Express that would actually take us first to judgment and then on to our final destination.
On Ash Wednesday, the church called us to travel, in liturgy and in acts of personal asceticism, to a place we’ve never been.
So what is the point of this Lenten journey? Just this: We need to find out for ourselves what we believe and how strongly we believe. That is where asceticism, the church’s Platform 9 3/4, comes in. Asceticism is any act of sacrifice. We give up some real good in this world as a way of saying and showing that we believe in a better world to come (even on this side of the grave).
There are those who immediately want to protest: Wouldn’t our efforts be better spent doing some real good in this world? Of course, we are supposed to do that. The Gospel clearly enjoins us to care for others. But Jesus, who worked countless wonders, who did such great things on our behalf, was also an ascetic. He fasted; he was celibate; he prayed through the night. And he called some to share his celibacy. And he spoke of all his followers fasting.
Believer or unbeliever, our very humanity compels us to do good and to serve others. Come the time of judgment, God will not ignore good deeds done by either the believer or the unbeliever. Yet Christians are called to asceticism as a way of reaching out, in faith, toward a life to come.
Christians are called to asceticism as a way of reaching out, in faith, toward a life to come.
Asceticism is giving up something good or taking on something negative solely for the love of God. Ethics demand goodness and charity of believer and unbeliever alike. Asceticism is impelled by love alone. It is our way of throwing ourselves at an unseen lover. It was the way of Christ and his apostles and of all the saints ever since. Love must express itself to be love. It requires more than acting rightly toward the beloved. Lovers leap. Lovers always leap, like Harry at Platform 9 3/4.
He pushed his trolley around and stared at the barrier. It looked very solid.
He started to walk toward it. People jostled him on their way to platforms nine and ten. Harry walked more quickly. He was going to smash right into that barrier and then he’d be in trouble—leaning forward on his cart, he broke into a heavy run—the barrier was coming nearer and nearer—he wouldn’t be able to stop—the cart was out of control—he was a foot way—he close his eyes ready for the crash—
It didn’t come…he kept on running…he opened his eyes.
A scarlet steam engine was waiting next to the platform packed with people. A sign overhead said Hogwarts Express, eleven o’clock. Harry looked behind him and saw a wrought-iron archway where the barrier had been, with the words Platform Nine and Three-Quarters on it. He had done it.
And so must we.