Tradition, Memory, and Star Wars

By Jeff Mallinson

When I first see a new Star Wars episode in theaters, I almost always dig it. Later, in the case of episodes 1-3 at least, I start to grow cold. Then, I become embarrassed that I wasn’t more discerning and critical the first time. For The Force Awakens, something nifty happened. I liked it better the second time. But not everyone did. Some think it lifts too much from episodes 4-6. But, on this week’s Virtue in the Wasteland podcast, we chatted with Rev. Ted Giese about the nay sayers. Giese suggested that this may have something to do with people’s respective appreciation or disdain for tradition and the treasures of the past. I think he’s right. And I think this tells us something about the way we tend to appreciate or reject aspects our religious traditions.

There is, of course, the common phenomenon of folks these days who identify as “spiritual but not religious.” To put the best construction on this sentiment, these folks seem to have encountered what they perceived to be bare rituals, but rituals divorced from the primary spiritual reality. For this reason, many, even in traditional churches, have sought emotional church experiences and downplayed liturgy, symbol, and sacrament. But I think this misses the point. Much of what we do under that category of “religion” is not even meant to be the thing itself, but rather a way to remember the thing itself.

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This remembrance is called anamnesis. This term is used by Plato to describe the recollection of the forms, and is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the way the term is used in the Christian tradition itself. Liturgical anamnesis involves remembering the redemptive work of Christ. John Chrysostom includes this language (thanks Wikipedia):

Remembering, therefore, this command of the Saviour and all that came to pass for our sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father and the second, glorious coming…

Lest you think this is mere Zwinglian “memorialism,” the idea is not that we merely remember intellectually, though cognitive memory is indeed involved. It is an invitation to participate in one of the means of grace, mindful of the work accomplished by Christ, but now delivered—really—to the body of Christ, which is served the body of Christ in the Divine Service. It is a regular feast that can seem ordinary over time, but calls us back to our first love, over and over. We need that. We are prone to forget.

The Psalmist (39:12) writes: “For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers.” And this constant recollection amidst agony becomes the centerpiece of the life of faith. Biblical faith isn’t an abstract belief in the existence of God; it is trust in the One who rescued our forefathers, and promises to do the same for us. It is theology of the Cross.

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The hiddenness of the Christian life involves many times when our primary experience fails to be enthralling, and when our primary experience is only of loneliness, and even a sense of abandonment. But we are not abandoned. When we are amidst ruins of the past, belief in God’s astounding work on our behalf can seem silly. But that is precisely why we gather together: to remember, reminding each other of what lies beyond this vail of tears. And in remembering, we are brought into the reality itself.

What’s this got to do with Star Wars: The Force Awakens? To me, one of the values of the latest film is that it reconnects audiences to what moved them about Star Wars: A New Hope. We move beyond the mundane world of trade federations and political wrangling, and reconnect to the spiritual themes that struck a chord with audiences in 1977. Some of us who saw that as children, now have children of our own. And we get to experience it all over again: now with eager young ones sitting beside us. It’s all true—all of it, to borrow from Han Solo. So don’t forget to remember, and don’t be too quick to slough off traditions that help us remember that the Lamb of God has taken away the sins of the world.

—The Wayfaring Stranger

Composed while sipping some jasmine tea my boy bought in China, between chapters of Stephen King, Revival.

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