Christians are often deeply divided on Mardi Gras. To what extent the body of Christ should celebrate or participate in the festivities have been hotly debated, but no one can argue the Mardi Gras season is an integral part of the culture of New Orleans. The exploits of Bourbon Street and rampant pockets of sinful activity (often led by out-of-towners) leads to negative observations of overindulgence, drunkenness, indecent public exposure, idol worship, etc.
However, I believe there are many positive observations the church can make about Mardi Gras:
#1 – PEOPLE SACRIFICE FOR THEIR PRIORITIES
People come out to celebrate during the Mardi Gras season from all over this city, state, nation, and world. Revelers endure long lines of traffic, horrible bathroom conditions, risky atmospheres, and go to great lengths to party–rain or shine. Yet we make excuses for not sacrificing certain things for Jesus, disciplining ourselves to regularly gather with the church, or living out our lives in full abandon to God’s commands. We make great sacrifice for what we love. The rhythms of our lives are shaped by what we prioritize most. Show me where, or for whom, you use the majority of your time, talent, and treasure, and I will show you where your priorities lay. Jesus says in Luke 9:23b-24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Following Jesus is never easy or convenient. He does not ask for part of us but all of us; anything less than everything is nothing. If we are fully submitted to Christ, the Holy Spirit will shape our priorities. Read your bible. Pray without ceasing. Share your faith.
#2 – PEOPLE DESIRE COMMUNITY
After attending a parade, I heard someone associated with the church remark, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get people as excited for Jesus and His Church as they are for Mardi Gras!” Here’s the bold, honest truth: People aren’t looking for a friendly church; they’re looking for friends. The desire for love, acceptance, and authentic relationship(s) is built into the very fabric of human nature. God declared during creation in Genesis 1:26a, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are an eternal community, the Trinity. Likewise, he molded us in his image for community. Mardi Gras serves as a reflection of community: families line parade routes, friends join together to have a good time, and entire neighborhoods cry, “Throw me something, Mister!”
#3 – PEOPLE FEAST ON FOOD & DRINK
The experience associated with Mardi Gras goes beyond floats, costumes, and beads. Good food and drink top off the experience for many people. Admittedly, many revelers use the Mardi Gras season to overindulge in alcohol and substances. However, the Cajun-Creole cuisine of this city and its surrounding parishes is matched by no other. Mardi Gras brings out the seasonal dessert known as King Cake. This time of the year also coincides with the advent of crawfish season in southern Louisiana. The problem with these elements of food and drink occurs when we feast to our own glory or in an idolatrous manner. Our food and drink should always be used in remembrance and celebration of Jesus Christ. He gives us his gospel. He gives us his community. He gives us his mission. Mix all these elements together and you have the opportunity to partake in a communion meal unlike any other, a feast for all seasons. As prophesied in Isaiah 25:6, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”
#4 – PEOPLE CELEBRATE WITH MUSIC & DANCING
What do Mardi Gras balls, second lines, and parades all have in common? The music is loud and celebratory; the dancing is full of energy and passion. Most parades feature bands and dance groups filling the gaps between floats. The surrounding crowds often join in the celebration. The church should echo a greater celebration. In fact, our celebration will never end. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating for inappropriate music or dancing. These activities draw attention to oneself, but the church should explode in spontaneous and joyful celebration drawing attention to the glory of God. Yes, our gatherings should be reverent featuring moments of solemn reflection, but we must also be known for our immense celebration. Who remembers the party that erupted in this city and region after the New Orleans Saints won their first Super Bowl? It was crazy. It was fun. It was exciting. How would an outsider compare our church’s celebration of Jesus’ victory to a sports fan’s celebration of their team’s victory? I have said before, “We have more Saints fans than saints in the city.” The church, the saints, should throw a bigger party. Psalm 149:3-4 reads, “Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.” When it comes to our celebration, there should be no comparison.
#5 – PEOPLE LIFT HANDS FOR GIFTS
At Mardi Gras parades, kids and adults go crazy lifting their hands and begging for inexpensive strings of beads, toys, candy, and doubloons. What if, as Christians, we lifted our hands and hearts with a greater passion than these revelers? The church lifts its hands in worship to Jesus Christ! Lamentations 3:40-41 reads, “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord! Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven.” Lifted hands crushes pride and cultivates humility. Our heart acknowledges of our depravity and His divinity. What happens when your team scores or wins the big game? What happens during natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, when souls are in need of rescue? What happens when a baby is being guided along and falls while learning to walk? Lifted hands indicate a cry of desperation, surrender, adoration, and trust. The Holy Spirit gives us greater spiritual gifts than the temporal trinkets Mardi Gras can offer. In Luke 11:13 Jesus reminds, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
#6 – PEOPLE UNITE THROUGH CULTURE
Mardi Gras is a cultural phenomenon so big and significant that it has become its own holiday. Schools and businesses shut down across the city and region in recognition of the season. Whether you choose to participate in this holiday or not, nobody can deny it shapes our culture. Show up to a parade and you will see people of every age, color, class, and demographic. The church should have greater diversity in its membership and partnerships! Martin Luther King Jr. once famously preached, “We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is not East or West,’ we stand in the most segregated hour of America.” How can we let Mardi Gras or any other cultural phenomenon display more diversity than the body of Christ? Ephesians 2:14,18-19 reads, “For he himself is our peace, who has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility… For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Theologian D.A. Carson writes, “The church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common jobs, or anything of the sort… In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.”
#7 – PEOPLE WILL COME
Here is the point at which the application is fully realized: People will come to an exciting, passionate celebration. Excitement and passion are contagious. The church is united through the gospel of Jesus Christ to celebrate His glory and make His name known to the nations. Archbishop William Temple once wrote, “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” We gather to serve and scatter. Our celebration cannot be contained by the walls of a building. The church’s impact should echo throughout this city, state, country, and world! Love Jesus and work hard.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden… Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:14,16b
What can the church learn from Mardi Gras? Much.
- written by Dean Ross (original post February 2013; revised & updated February 2017)
- quote from Martin Luther King Jr. taken from a sermon given at the National Cathedral on March 31, 1968 in Washington D.C.
- quote from D.A. Carson taken from “Love in the Hard Places”
- quote from William Temple taken from “Tales of the Neverending” (Mark Littleton)
- scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved