November 20, 2014

February 12, 2013


Mardi Gras is not the Gospel

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”, “Mardi Gras season”, and “Carnival season”,[1][2][3][4][5] in English, refer to events of the Carnival celebrations, beginning on or after Epiphany and culminating on the day before Ash WednesdayMardi 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.”[6] 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.


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16 comments

Well, there is nothing wrong with a party, and there was a practical reason to it, to use up certain foods before Lent so they would not spoil.  It doesn’t have to be an immoral party.

However the priest at the Latin Mass last week was urging us to pray “in reparation” for the people who would commit sin during such celebrations.  You can change that to “pray for them, ” as I know the idea of reparation is contrary to your theology.  But I am sure you know that there has been much Catholic preaching against the excesses of these celebrations. 

Still, there is nothing wrong with a party.  Like a pancake supper on Shrove Tuesday?  Somehow we have to be able to manage to live repentantly and also with some modicum of fellowship and joy.
Susan Peterson

[1] Posted by eulogos on 2-12-2013 at 10:28 PM · [top]

David, you’re a fun guy and no party-pooper, for sure. And I agree with you heartily on this point. The whole Fat Tuesday thing would be a BIT more palatable to me if the revelers would sincerely take on a Lent as strict as their Mardi Gras was wild.

[2] Posted by A Senior Priest on 2-12-2013 at 11:55 PM · [top]

Thank you for posting this. There is nothing wrong with a party. But Mardi Gras has become a scandal, one that brings disrepute to the Church and distorts the saving message of Christ. Sure, throwing candy from a float, standing alone, is not sinful. But it has become part of a larger package, that is. Perhaps it was different at some time.

[3] Posted by Going Home on 2-13-2013 at 12:08 AM · [top]

I will add the thesis—controversial to some, I am sure—that Lent (at least as some people understand it) is not of the Gospel either.  Repentance, as you point out, is both instantaneous (“today if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts”) and lifelong, as in the quotation from Martin Luther.  We do not have the luxury of choosing the timing of our repentance.  We do it when God calls us and convicts us or else we don’t do it at all.

So, strictly speaking, Lent is not about repentance, because we cannot hasten or defer our repentance or choose a season in which to repent, it is about acts of penance which is a different matter.  As I observe the acts of penance in which some engage in Lent, it seems that some are attempting to make a personal atonement for sins, when the only atonement that will ever take care of our sins has already been made, once for all, by Jesus Christ.

All this is not to say that there is no value in Lent.  A time, whether it be a weekend retreat or a 40 day period, in which we spend time in devotions that draw us closer to God, is of enormous value.  Such times will undoubtedly include self-examination and confession of any known sins.  We can grow spiritually and find new direction for our lives and ministries.  And, sometimes, acts of self denial, such as fasting help us to focus our resolve during this time and demonstrate to God and ourselves the seriousness of our undertaking. 

The problem comes when we think we are doing something virtuous when we manage to give up things for 40 days that, in actuality, we ought to give up 365 days a year.  Or when we reduce our right standing before God to a game of addition and subtraction—as though our salvation depended on the good we have done outweighing the bad.  Or when we think that God delights in sacrifice more than mercy, or that petty acts of contrition can bridge a chasm that could only be bridged by the death of God’s only-begotten Son.

We would do well to remember the purposes for which Jesus spent 40 days fasting and praying in the wilderness.  He had no sins for which he needed to atone.  We have no sins for which we are capable of atoning.  If we could, what He did for us—what He had to do for us—would not have been necessary.

In a holy Lent, we need to spend time being reminded of our need to trust in the providence of God (“Do not put the Lord your God to the test”), the supremacy of God (“Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only”), and the sufficiency of His Word (“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”).

So Lent is really much more about what God adds to our lives as we spend intentional, focused time with Him rather than what we give up, because the Gospel is always about what God has done for us, not about what we do for Him.

[4] Posted by ToAllTheWorld on 2-13-2013 at 02:16 AM · [top]

Thanks David, for a very thoughtful article.  I found all the comments helpful also.

[5] Posted by MichaelA on 2-13-2013 at 03:06 AM · [top]

I have no problem with marti gras…love it in fact. I don’t think it necessarily means sin now repent later. That is how many celebrate it but it is not necessary. It’s a feast before a fast. What’s wrong with that?

Secondly, Lent itself “would be” contrary to the gospel if it were celebrated as the only time of repentance. I don’t know of any serious person who thinks that.

Should we live lives of repentance?

Of course.

Do we.

Nope.

So I think it is helpful both pastorally and personally to have a season where this life-long call is reiterated and sins that have grown up over the year subtly can be identified and by grace rooted out.

So, party and then fast. Nothing wrong with that. It’s a pattern that is perfectly biblical.

[6] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 2-13-2013 at 08:48 AM · [top]

I witnessed the party in NOLA for many years as well as this past weekend, and my observations of the young people in the French Quarter lead me to conclude that “fun” for most winds up becoming a futile quest for self gratification in the form of alcohol, voyeurism, and life experiences rather than a pre-lenten blow out of sin. I kinda doubt many will be in church today.

It was encouraging however to witness a few brave souls on Bourbon St. peacefully testifying to Jesus.

It will be the ongoing work of the Lord to show the young fun seekers that true life begins once you walk away from Bourbon St.

[7] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 2-13-2013 at 09:04 AM · [top]

RE: “Somehow we have to be able to manage to live repentantly and also with some modicum of fellowship and joy.”

No no no no.  If I must live repentantly, I intend to do so with a lowering brow and grim look, not to mention inflicting my bad mood on others.  If I must suffer, others must do so double!

People need to understand that repentance is hard, and miserable, and very joyless.

RE: “The problem comes when we think we are doing something virtuous when we manage to give up things for 40 days that, in actuality, we ought to give up 365 days a year.”

Whoa Nellie!

Whoa whoa whoa!  I gave up desserts and sweets for Lent.  You have moved from preachin’ to meddlin now, and the board of deacons shall hear about this!

[8] Posted by Sarah on 2-13-2013 at 09:52 AM · [top]

I gave up desserts and sweets for Lent.

See that is what is wrong with you extreme conservatives.  Giving up ALL desserts and sweets is surely TOO much to ask.  Why not give up - say large Tootsie Rolls instead?  Others would say - my how she suffers.  What a progressive for the cause.  raspberry

[9] Posted by Jackie on 2-13-2013 at 11:07 AM · [top]

Thank you, Rev. Professor Munday, #4 -  Your explanation should be preached or at least printed and handed out today from every pulpit.

Thank you also, Undergroundpewster, for your comment.

I despise the Bachannale aspect of Mardi Gras, having been born in New Orleans, lived in Louisiana, and grown up among adults who loved partying, drinking, smoking…and all the decadent activities of Bourbon Street, fans of Kinsey and Louie P. Long, denizens of the Army officers clubs, and all things of that sort.

That sort of partying has nothing to do whatsoever with the Kingdom of God…rather the opposite…it’s loaning yourself and joining yourself to the opposite kingdom. 
 
I want no more of it.

[10] Posted by St. Nikao on 2-13-2013 at 11:39 AM · [top]

#4 - you knocked it out of the park. 

RE:  “In a holy Lent, we need to spend time being reminded of our need to trust in the providence of God (“Do not put the Lord your God to the test”), the supremacy of God (“Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only”), and the sufficiency of His Word (“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”).”

I’m reminded of a friend of mine, a teacher in one of our seminaries, who once pointed out that Christ’s temptations in the wilderness matched those put to pre-Fall Adam, in the Garden of Eden.  He said that Christ’s time in the wilderness is the fulfillment of Adam’s failed attempt at getting through the probation that existed within the Garden of Eden.  (My friend is of the BT / Redemptive Historical / Reformed persuasion).  wink

The thought occurs to me that if Lent points back to Christ’s time of trial, and if the end of Christ’s trials is Christ’s triumph .. then the season of Lent is actually about the Gospel itself.

[11] Posted by J Eppinga on 2-13-2013 at 12:44 PM · [top]

I agree that Mardi Gras is not Christian as it is currently practiced in cities around the world.  But Fat Tuesday does not have to be an occasion to sin.  Someone else has already mentioned that people used to use up certain items so that they would not be wasted during Lent.  As for myself,  I use the day to say good-bye to things that I will be giving up.  It helps me to appreciate how good I have it and, at least I hope,  it helps me to better appreciate how little I deserve to have it so good.  I am able to see my normal life in the light of Ash Wednesday and the penitential season that follows.  I don’t think this can be a bad thing done in the right spirit.

[12] Posted by StayinAnglican on 2-13-2013 at 03:33 PM · [top]

No one has yet mentioned the theology of Moon Pies…..

[13] Posted by Capn Jack Sparrow on 2-13-2013 at 09:34 PM · [top]

I can certainly see how the blow-out of Mardi Gras came to be, especially since much pre-Reformation theology was a very mechanical, quantified approach to sin and salvation. No Gospel in that.

I find it helpful to look at the Calendar as a series of seasons that each allow us to look more closely at one aspect of the Gospel, at the foundation and mission of the Church, and at the phases of spiritual growth in the life of an individual Christian.  No one seasons contains the entire story, but as a whole, the Calendar does.

[14] Posted by AnglicanXn on 2-13-2013 at 09:58 PM · [top]

I am giving up sacrificing for Lent again this year. But then I gave up Mardi Gras for Epiphany.

[15] Posted by Don+ on 2-13-2013 at 11:24 PM · [top]

I love much about New Orleans, as well as Mobile and other cities with Mardi Gras celebrations.

But I have seen too much. Mardi Gras adds fuel (money and people) to a dangerous and sad underside in the French Quarter and elsewhere in New Orleans.  It don’t dispute that it is fine in theory, but in application it has become a very negative thing.

[16] Posted by Going Home on 2-16-2013 at 03:29 PM · [top]

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