In George Lucas’ first-ever “Star Wars” film, “Episode IV: A New Hope,” there’s a compelling scene late in the movie where Luke, Han, Chewie, Leia, C-3PO, and R2D2 escape from the Death Star in the Millennium Falcon. Their speedy exit is impeded by the Empire’s TIE fighters shooting at them, so Luke and Han rush to the Falcon’s gun turrets to fight back.
Luke is a farm boy from Tatooine who’s always dreamed of fighting in a war, but this is his first time in battle. When he shoots down his first enemy ship, he gets excited and yells, “I got him!”
Han, a veteran of space battles, responds, “Great, kid! Don’t get cocky.”
To me, that line symbolizes the message of Ash Wednesday.
Though the words that the priest uses when putting ashes on people’s foreheads has changed in recent years to, “Turn from sin and follow the gospel,” I was raised when the Scripture cited was Genesis 3:19, “Remember, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
In other words, “Don’t get cocky.”
It’s easy for us to get so wrapped up in ourselves and life in general that we forget about the bigger picture. That bigger picture includes the fact that each person is known, loved and created by God. Not just you, not just me. Everybody. Like it says in Psalm 139:13, “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.”
We’re also each given different gifts and talents to play a role in God’s plan. Father James Keller, the founder of The Christophers, once wrote, “God wishes you to be His instrument in renewing the face of the earth…Your efforts will bear fruit from now into eternity.”
Then someday, we will pass from this life into that aforementioned eternity, hopefully to a place of union with God as opposed to the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” that is the other option (to keep the “Star Wars” analogy going).
Ash Wednesday is the reminder of that last step in the process because we often get detoured in the middle step. Human beings have a tendency to get hung up on power and possessions. That’s not just true for politicians, celebrities, business leaders or the super-rich; it’s true of us all. Sometimes just a little bit of power or material advantage over others can turn someone to the dark side. We need constant reminders to be humble, and Ash Wednesday fills the bill every winter.
It’s also important to remember that the Falcon ultimately gets away from the TIE fighters not because of Luke and Han’s fighting and flying abilities, but because Darth Vader lets them get away so he can track them to the secret rebel base. So our heroes could potentially be responsible for the destruction of an entire planet full of people, like what happened to Alderaan. Pretty humbling, no?
As we begin another Lent, keep this in mind. No matter what we accomplish on this earth, no matter how powerful we are, no matter how much cash we have in the bank, our physical bodies will eventually all meet the same end. Therefore, strive to live the best life possible in the knowledge that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
That’s great news! But don’t get cocky.