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  • Writer's pictureBeth Hildebrand

May The Force Be With You

In your mind, can you hear the “bum bum bum bum bummmm bammmm, bum bum bhum baaahhhhmmm baahhhmmm, bum bum bum baahhmmm baahhmmm, bum bhum bhum bhum…” bursting from the 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones and a bass tuba in the orchestra pit as you hear someone simply say the words “Star Wars”?

In 1977 the world fell in love with the beginning of what would become the ultimate epic story about good versus evil, called “Star Wars”. Who knew that 42 years later the Star Wars series continues to be a blockbuster movie every single time a new one is released, that people who watched it as teenagers in 1977 now take their grandchildren who love it just as much as they did when they were young? It never went out of style; it only became more amazing to the human race.

Some of my most treasured memories as a child are when my dad took me to see the movies as they came out every few years. I was just 5 years old when the first one was released but even at that young age, I was mesmerized by the “future” spaceships, but mostly by the characters Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo, Princess Lea and Chewy. I wanted to have long, braided hair like Princess Lea that were wrapped in two buns on each side of her head. Since I had a short hair style, my mom bought me a pair of dark brown earmuffs that I wore in the heat of the summer as I pretended to be Lea while my neighborhood friends became other galaxians as we played Star Wars in each other’s backyard woods.

I was so enthralled by this make-believe story that I had Star Wars sheets on my bed, asked for Star Wars figurines for my birthday and Christmas gifts (and had a large collection of them), even Star Wars collectable drinking glasses we purchased at McDonald’s of all places!

So, how is it that I am just as excited when I got to take my kids to see Star Wars the past 15 years when my kids were young and wanted to see them, too? It’s the art of storytelling with the epic plot were good versus evil. The main plot of the story remained the same: There are good guys and bad guys. They battle each other, fight to save the ones they love, and the good guys win.

Y’all. I even took notes, with paper and a pen, at the movie “The Rise of the Skywalker” this past Christmas season when I saw it a couple of times. I could write several posts about it, and maybe I will one day, but today, was a special day for me personally and in the church in which I was raised.

Let me rewind back to this past Christmas. As a gift for my sister’s and my families, including six grandchildren, my mom, an organist for almost 50 years, had been practicing a piece she wanted to play for us at church the day after Christmas. She wouldn’t give us any clue what it was and I didn’t have any idea what it would be. As thousands of people went to stores to return Christmas gifts that didn’t’ fit or weren’t liked, we sat in a pew, in the middle of the high ceiling sanctuary surrounded by brightly colored stained-glass windows.

Once we found our seats, Mom hollered from the depth of the organ pit, “Here I go, Merry Christmas!” There were a few seconds of silence and then suddenly, a burst of deep, harmonious melody rose out of the large and wide, and small and narrow, silver organ pipes in the sanctuary. Just as instantly I knew what she was beginning to play, tears started streaming down my face. Not tears of sorrow, even though I wished and wanted my dad sitting beside me like he did in the movie theater, but tears of deep joy. Good memories. Maybe even the feeling of being in the presence of God…or the Force was with me.

For over seven minutes, my mom’s fingers flowed beautifully over the three rows black keys as they brought visual memories of scenes in the movie and characters in action. But those visions and emotions went a little deeper as I could tell by the tones of the tunes which were dark times in the story and which ones had bursts of light shining through. Lights so bright, strong and powerful. It was a priceless gift that I loved for many reasons.

Now, back to this past Sunday morning. My mom told me a couple of weeks ago she would be playing this Star Wars piece at the end of her church service! Star Wars?! Is that “church music”? I say “Yes, it is, because there’s so much spirituality in the Stat Wars story, and so do the pastors and staff of Highland UMC. The pastors and staff had been hearing Mom play it down the hall from their offices and thought today’s service would be a perfect one to play it at because in the Methodist Church, it is Transfiguration Sunday. I wanted to be there, so my husband and daughter went with me.

OK, what is transfiguration Sunday? That sounds like some fancy church word. Well, many Bibles have subtitles before sections, including my study Bible, and it says, The Transfiguration at the beginning of Matthew 17. In the Christian church calendar, many have Transfiguration Sunday, which is the Sunday before the beginning of Lent season. Lent is the 40 days prior to Easter where many give up or do specific practices in preparation for Holy Week, Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Matthew, Mark and Luke write how Jesus took Peter, James and John to the top of a mountain to give them a mountain-top experience they will never forget.

“…Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one of Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am will pleased. Listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.” (Mt. 17:1-9)

You may be like I am and want to look up the meaning of the word “transfiguration”. It means to transform into something more beautiful or exalted. To change the appearance of someone; transform outwardly.

There were several things I learned from the pastor’s message, but one thing I’ll mention here is the purpose of the transforming event. God knew that His Son’s time had come and in the near future, he was going to be experiencing the worst pains a human could ever experience: abandonment, hatred, betrayal, and even excruciating, physical pain when he is flogged and crucified and left to hang on a cross with two large nails that hammered him into a wooden cross.

God loved His Son so much, he brought to Jesus, two men in the history of God’s epic history, Moses and Elijah, to encourage Jesus before he went through hell on this earth and in places we have not seen in the dark world (Eph. 6:18) It was such an holy experience, God’s light shined brighter than Jesus’ disciples could look at without being blinded.

God revealed to Peter, James and John His presence, just like He revealed His presence to Moses and Elijah (read Exodus 24 and 2 Kings 2). Through light. Those disciples had an experience that they could hold onto. They were filled by and with a force…the Holy Spirit. They had to go back down the mountain from their mountain-top experience and face the enemies that awaited them. But they had hope and they knew the ending will be good if Jesus, or the Force, has anything to do with it.

Isn’t that the forever-in-history and future-to-come true story? Yes, we face darkness, heartaches, difficulties and even battles raging inside of us. But the good side always seems to come out as the defeater and winner because there’s a hope and strength that transforms within them. An ultimate power-source or force only Some One good can give the ones who trusted that force.

So, what a perfect time for mom to play the Star Wars music piece at the end of that message. Everyone in the sanctuary was expecting her to play anything but the theme songs from a popular movie. I think it took some people about 30 seconds before they realized what she was playing as they began walking out of the sanctuary, but it didn’t take long until we saw people stop, and their faces look back to the organ pit and light up with looks of surprise and smiles. Many did a 180* turnaround and went over to surround the organ pit as the familiar tunes bellowed in the large room.

Everyone listening was in awe like I was. Amazed that it was being played as the postlude song at a church service, amazed of the talent she had to play it, but even deeper the amazement of the transformation and transfiguration we can experience with God like Moses, Elijah and the disciples did – even if the experience is heard just in a whisper (1 Kings 19:12) – or the plot of a Star Wars movie.

Now that Lent season begins, may the Force, or the Holy Spirit, be with you.

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