I like Fat Tuesday. As an Anglican Christian, that statement bears some explanation. Let there be no mistake, Mardis Gras is not a liturgical holiday, but that is not to say it has nothing to do with the liturgical calendar. Unlike the Epiphany or the Day of Pentecost, Mardis Gras is not a holy day, but a pagan reaction to the holy day of Ash Wednesday. It began innocently enough, as the day when all the remaining rich foods were eaten up in a big feast anticipating the coming fast beginning on Ash Wednesday. It was one night’s abundance that contrasted the coming forty days of Lent, and in an odd way, actually highlighted the Lenten fast by feasting on its eve. It is similar to Halloween, another pagan anti-holiday which musters the spirits of darkness for one last hurrah before the Saints arrive to chase them away the following morning. It is a ritual of reversal, one that reinforces the norm by ritualistically subverting the order for a short period.
Mardi Gras since its humble beginnings in religious Europe has rolled through time like a stone gathering cultural moss, and today, we have an excessive, drunken and thoroughly sin-glorifying parade day that is typically the spring event at party schools. But even in this, it betrays the power of Christ. That Mardi Gras has become debauched only hardens the earnestness of Lent by revealing its moral dimension. Everything done to spite the fast only serves to contrast the distinction between World and Church. No matter how thoroughly sin is glorified, Mardis Gras expects the Lenten Fast.
What then? Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase? May it never be! No one who has tasted Resurrection Day can ever really enjoy the spirit of Mardi Gras. We are not in ourselves divided. For the People of God, Lent is not our pain, but our hope. It is the time that we acknowledge and confess our sins to God and recognize our need for him. It all begins with these words: “From dust you were formed. And to dust you shall return.” Do they not speak freedom? They do. Are we not free to consider the numbered days of our lives under the sun? Our sin, our deficiency and our need? That is what the fast symbolizes: the need for true food.
So go ahead, have a sweet roll today. It will help you feel the fast tomorrow. Through ritual, we posture ourselves in ways that allow access to truth. We Christians are in the world, not of it, and may never indulge in the world’s sinful excesses, but let us not be afraid to crack a little smile when the masked dancers go past, and remember that we too were pagans welcomed into the citizenship of heaven. In fact, let us wade into the throngs and find those who have been ravaged by excess, the addicted, the hopeless, the self-killing and offer them the true food of the fast.