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During my first pastorate in Louisiana there were a lot of things that I experienced that were culturally alien to me. There were Cajuns and Creoles cultures to navigate with their chicory in the coffee, boudin, traiteurs, lagniappe and an ancient French use of the language. It often felt like being in another country. Yet, it was a culture of celebration and one where they knew how to live out Laissez les bon temps roulez (Let the Good Times Roll). This is one part of that culture that keeps it brimming with life.
Now I was not born into a culture of celebration and raucous partying. I can still hear my elder’s furrowed brows at the decadence that each year’s newscast of Mardi Gras brought. To my fundamentalist forerunners this was truly proof of sin and decadence. With people flashing their private parts for plastic beads and drinking in the streets could the second coming of Christ be far behind?
So, unfortunately, I had carried these prejudices with me to Louisiana and was very quickly disabused of them. I was quickly made to understand that Mardi Gras was a deeply religious understanding of the liturgical cycle amongst the Catholic Cajuns and Creoles. They were having one last blow out before they would deny themselves for the 40 days until Easter. All the delicious king cake was a reminder of the King Jesus, the colors reminded us of the equality of all on a day where everyone was a King and the parades were the coming together of the community. They assured me that there were hundreds of Mardi Gras in Louisiana and that New Orleans was just one of many.
I can attest that the celebrations in Lafayette, Abbeville and New Iberia were much different from the one year we ventured to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I can also say that amongst my Cajun and Creole friends they represented something deeply religious.
As my time as a pastor in South Louisiana was coming to an end I had decided that my last Sunday would be Easter in that small church I had called home. As I preached my last sermon we prepared that Monday for the movers to come and pack our house. That is when I really learned how seriously this culture took this 40 days.
As the morning started the movers came with boxes and paper to wrap our breakable things. As we watched they started with a lot of energy in getting to their task. Still, as the day wore on we noticed something very fascinating. Ever couple of hours they would take a break and leaving our house for about a half an hour. As the day went on they became more vocal, jovial and celebratory in their packing. They also smelled of quite a bit of liquor. It was then that we realized that they were celebrating the first day that they were allowed to technically partake in liquor after the 40 days of denial.
When we reached our destination in Rhode Island it was clear that they knew the state they were in. Every box was overstuffed with wrapping, lampshades had been put in boxes with extra wrapping and salt shakers under two inches of paper wrap. It was the only move that I have had that had so little broken because of the extra wrapping done by our celebratory friends.
Even though I no longer drink, I do appreciate the sentiment that goes along with the idea of celebrating the accomplishment of Easter’s end to the 40 days. In many of our communities across the United States we will return to our jobs tomorrow like today was a quaint commemoration of something from the distant past. Something that we know is important to reflect upon, but not something that makes it past our hectic week’s schedule. That is too bad because that is not the history of this day in the church.
Easter was a day were everything changed for those who wished to join the church and in some early church community when those seeking membership into a church community exited the font on Easter morning it would be the first time that many would hear the Lord’s Prayer recited. They were not only resurrecting into a new life with Jesus, but a new life together with a family that they had previously never known they had relations.
Let us know that today is about things changing. There can no longer be the old person we were when we stand on the other side of the font. We have put on a new person. This new person is one that is radiant with Christ’s presence. We are being engrafted into a new family and we need not resist Christ’s pull any longer. Come and know new life, turn from sin and look into the face of love. That is something that we can celebrate from today until the day we take our final breath. Thanks be to God.
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