Now, I think you all already know that, but let me explain…
As part of our tour of the US we are now in New Orleans staying with my Stand Firm blogging colleague Jackie. Today, was Mardi Gras and we had a great time going to watch a parade. If you’ve never been to a parade (which I assume is most of you) then what you need to know is this – there are a large number of floats interspersed with marching bands. The floats are organised mainly by large clubs which appear to exist in the main to basically have a good time. At the parade the floats throw bead necklaces and other goodies (the best floats handing out stuffed toys etc.) to the attending crowds.
The point I’m stressing is this – it’s a great time and everyone is there simply to have a great time. It’s a festival of self-gratification. Of course in the French Quarter tonight’s festivities may also veer towards other forms of gratification. Interestingly there is no real attempt to use the event to raise money for charity – it’s not about that
It’s no surprise that Mardi Gras celebration takes this form.
“Mardi Gras” (pron.:/ˈmɑrdiɡrɑː/), “Mardi Gras season“, and “Carnival season“, in English, refer to events of the Carnival celebrations, beginning on or after Epiphany and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi gras is French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of theLenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday. The day is sometimes referred to as Shrove Tuesday, from the word shrive, meaning “confess.” Related popular practices are associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent.
In other words, it’s a blow-out before you get serious about sin. You know that a penitential season is coming and so you decide to have one last fling and go nuts. Of course most celebrants around us weren’t thinking in those categories but that’s the essence nevertheless.
And it’s not the gospel, is it? Not by a long shot. In fact the gospel calls us to something very different – to repent today, not tomorrow.
Psalm 95:7b-8a Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…
Psalm 95 is read every day at Morning Prayer (you might know it as the Venite) and reminds us every morning that as we hear the word of God in the Scriptures we are not to put off our response. In fact more than that, the idea that we can put off a response and go sin some more because grace is around the corner is antithetical to the gospel.
Rom. 6:1-2 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
You don’t blow out on sin because you know repentance is coming! It’s hypocrisy of the worst sort.
But the great Reformer Martin Luther put it best.
When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
Luther (in thesis 1 of the 95 Theses) is, of course, referring to Jesus’ first recorded words in the Gospel,
Mark 1:14-15 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”.
Jesus’ call is to repent; repent because the Kingdom is at hand, repent because the gospel provides a wonderful outcome for the repentant. The call was emphatically not have one final blow-out.
So I hope you had a great Mardi Gras or simply a big pile of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. But don’t mistake that dynamic of blow-out then penance for the gospel.