Long before I came to Church in the Cliff or went to seminary and was exposed to the liturgical calendar, I received a covert education on it. Living in New Orleans, one is immersed in the flow of that calendar. The already low productivity in the Big Lazy drops even more after Thanksgiving. Holiday parties and ski vacations for those who can afford them leave many out of pocket. And then we roll into Carnival, the weeks preceding Fat Tuesday and Lent. In a city prone to search for reasons to celebrate, Mardi Gras delivers.
Those distracted by hurricanes and public nudity might miss the serious purpose that lurks underneath. Carnival is probably an evolution and Christianization of a more ancient celebration: Saturnalia. Saturnalia was a Roman celebration in which societal norms were undercut – at least, temporarily. Slaves were served a feast by their masters. People wore ornate dinner clothes during the day. Everyone, slave, citizen, and freedperson, wore the hat normally designated for the freedperson, eliminating the usual markers of class hierarchy. And, of course, there was a lot of drinking, perhaps to make equality more palatable. This all harked back to a primal time when humans enjoyed the world’s bounty without labor or commerce and so there was no need for class. (Sound familiar?) In the official liturgical calendar, this time is just ordinary time, but in New Orleans – and in many other places around the world – this is the time to celebrate the Great Reversal.
If you plot out this part of the year as the life of Jesus, this is the time of Jesus’ mission, sandwiched, like all our lives, between birth and death. And so it is a time of celebration. The bridegroom is with us! Feast and drink! Celebrate! For it will not always be so.
But it is not just a celebration for its own sake, particularly if we follow Luke’s story of the life of Jesus. The life of Luke’s Jesus had a particular focus. It is foreshadowed in the messages of angels and the song of Mary. It is welcomed in the joy of the shepherds. And it is stated explicitly when Jesus begins his ministry by reading from the prophet Isaiah in Luke 4:18-19: “The Spirit of our God is upon me: because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison – to proclaim the year of our God’s favor” (inclusive translation). The world as we know it is turned upside down in the presence of God. We might need a drink.
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we discuss life in the Great Reversal as presented in Jesus’ “mission statement.”
Grace and Peace,