Epiphany to Mardi Gras
For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
Happy Carnevale! Epiphany started the season of Carnevale (see Epiphany posts). Carnevale is not a spiritual season, a season out of time and space, but a season within ordinary time, meaning physical realm time and space. It is a time of saying goodbye to the flesh (Carne meaning flesh and Vale meaning farewell). It is a long, wonderful funeral wake. It is a time filled with excess, as you can see by watching anything about Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) which is the last day of Carnevale.
In the last few decades Mardi Gras has become so popular that the entire season is sometimes thought of as Mardi Gras. We see the green, gold and purple and the King cakes. We see masks, the beads, the coins and the parties. How can this be a religious holiday?
By looking at what it is, not what it is portrayed to be. Very much like the commercialization of Christmas, we have to look beyond what people have made it into to see what it truly is.
The colors and the King cake set the tone of what should be a significant teaching. The colors of Carnevale are purple, green and gold. The purple is for royalty of Christ the King. It also represents the contemplative quality that underlies the season – yes, you are supposed to be thinking about your life at this time. The second color is green. Green is the color of life not just this one but the one to come. The third color is gold for Divinity of Jesus.
The King cakes are very significant. What it is, is a cake, any kind because it changes region to region and family to family. The thing that is special about this cake is there is a tiny figure of the baby hidden inside the cake. It not only relays the story of the Wise men but also of how we each must seek Jesus.
The beads and the coins show us how silly we can all get with the ways of the world – wanting more money, bigger house, better car – more, more, more, me, me, me, mine, mine, mine. How ridiculous we get with the material world is never as obvious as when you see some drunken fool stumbling under the weight of the Mardi Gras beads on his neck, the rings on his fingers, and the coins in his pockets. Look how rich he is with worldly possessions! Isn’t he important! There is a reason that the jester is the main figure in Carnevale. The jester, or King’s fool, is the only one who can tell you, no matter how important you think you are – the way things really are. How are things really?
Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing? See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than they? Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan? Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin, yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t he much more clothe you, you of little faith? Matthew 6: 25-30
So what does that have to do with the masks, and weird outfits? Everything! During Carnevale we make fun of what we do to ourselves! Instead of being honest with ourselves and others, we wear masks, hiding what we think or how we feel and instead put on the mask that we think others expect us to wear. That is why at midnight on Mardi Gras when Carnevale ends and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, there is a great unmasking. We put aside the body to live in only in the word and deed of Love.
With all of this excess we see ourselves in a new light. Is this really what we want to be? Is this really what we want to spend years of our finite time on Earth doing? In this grand Goodbye to the Flesh, we think back over our lives and ask ourselves: “Is this what I want to say I’ve done with my life?”
God, please forgive us for our greed, selfish ambition, conceit, arrogance and other worldly vices. Forgive us for loving things and placing them over You. Forgive us for not being good stewards of Your blessings. And most of all, please help us to rise above it. Amen.
Peace be with you,