According to author Alan Arnold, in 1979 “Margaret Thatcher … won the election and became Britain’s first woman prime minister. To celebrate their victory her party took a half page of advertising space in the London Evening News. This message, referring to the day of victory, was ‘May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations.'”
This resulted in a yearly fan tradition of calling May 4 “Star Wars Day” or “May the Fourth be With You Day,” in reference to the Jedi phrase used in the movies, “May the Force be with you.“
The phrase has been used in every Star Wars film since 1977 and has become a central part of the Star Wars universe. What few people realize is that when George Lucas penned these iconic words he was originally inspired by a similar phrase that has been used since the very beginning of Christianity.
The Lord be with you
The phrase is first found in the Book of Ruth, “And behold, Bo′az came from Bethlehem; and he said to the reapers, ‘The Lord be with you!‘ And they answered, ‘The Lord bless you'” (Ruth 2:4). According to Christopher Carstens in Mystical Body, Mystical Voice: Encountering Christ in the Words of the Mass, the “greeting … is the greeting of the landowner Boaz to his harvesters. … It is a greeting to those who gather their daily bread by working in the field, a greeting to pilgrims like Ruth living off the land as they pass through. It was used by the Hebrews on everyday occasions to express good wishes in the Lord.”
The phrase received an even greater symbolism when adopted by the early Christians and used in the context of the Mass, where the true “daily bread” is made present on the altar.
Further evidence of the phrase being used in everyday occurrences is found in the book of Chronicles, where we read, “The Spirit of God came upon Azari′ah the son of Oded, and he went out to meet Asa, and said to him, ‘Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you, while you are with him'” (2 Chronicles 15:1-2).
Additionally, a longer version of the phrase can be found in the letters of Saint Paul. For example, in 2 Corinthians, Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14). Paul truncates the phrase in his Second Letter to Timothy where he writes, “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you” (2 Timothy 4:22).
The phrase quickly became an essential part of the liturgy and life of the early Christians on account of its basis in Scripture and usage in everyday greetings. After the Reformation, Protestant groups held on to the phrase and it can still be seen in Anglican and Lutheran liturgies. Catholics to this day use the words in blessings given by deacons and priests in the liturgy and other prayer services.
George Lucas was raised in a Methodist family and may have heard the phrase there, or while attending other Christian services. Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz confirmed in the book How Star Wars Conquered the Universe that the phrase was intentionally evocative of the blessing.
In the end, the Jedi in the Star Wars universe use “May the Force be with you” in a very similar way to how the Jews and early Christians used the phrase “The Lord be with you.” This was no coincidence and it should remind us how Christianity’s influence can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
On this #StarWarsDay, may the Lord be with you!