I will never forget the chaos of Mardi Gras. Purple, green, and silver made New Orleans look like a crown jewel. Two-story floats glided down the parade paths spitting beads at enthusiastic onlookers. Excited energy pounded in the hearts of every attendee.
At one point, I got so into the parade that I failed to see the full bag of beads flying toward my head. I ducked just in time to hear the bag explode behind me accented by the squeal of half a dozen kids gathering their prize.
The delight of the holiday spread like a wildfire from the oldest grandparent to the wobbly toddlers. People drank, laughed, and enjoyed themselves.
One look at Mardi Gras tells you how much we value a party. Fat Tuesday celebrates a final day of indulgence before the forty-day fast anticipating Easter.
Of course, the world tends to sprint into Lent with a crazy week of parades, beads, and booze. But whatever form it takes for those in the church, Christians often drag their feet gloomily into the piety of Lenten season.
The world celebrates better than the church.
Maybe the church has celebration backwards.
What if we don’t celebrate inside the church because we see it as a place to be solemn and reflective, respectful and attentive? Or what if the church has historically stiff-armed a good party?
Some protestant traditions think drinking and dancing invite the devil. And lately, it has become vogue to micro-analyze every motivation behind the things that bring us joy to ferret out sin.
All this has made celebration stressful for the church. We can’t immerse ourselves in festivity because we are too busy questioning ourselves: Are my motives pure? Am I causing someone to stumble? Is this even godly?
It’s understandable. After all, we live in an era of corrupt celebration. The world around us often associates celebration with escape and pleasure—a party for party’s sake. Instead of allowing pain to accent celebration, many indulge in order to escape pain. Or, like Mardi Gras, to buffer against a dreary future.
To our chagrin, we cannot escape suffering, no matter how hard we try.
As Christians we often see the folly in escapism. We know the pain of Good Friday—we know we must embrace the sting. What we forget in Easter isn’t the pain—it’s the party. We cheat ourselves into thinking the Christian life requires constant solemnity and contemplation, as if we must always and only ponder our sin and take it to the cross weeping.
Confession and surrender are key elements to our faith, yes. But I’m afraid too many of us live as though the story ended on Good Friday with our savior on the cross, bleeding for our sins. We should return to the cross often to feel the weight of our sin and grieve his suffering. But we shouldn’t forget to turn the page—to read the rest of the story.
A Celebration Worthy of an Empty Tomb
The first time I felt the elation of the Resurrection was during my freshman year of college. I attended a mid-week worship service led by other students on campus. I don’t remember the sermon topic that night, but I do recall singing “In Christ Alone” for the first time.
When we came to the lines “There in the ground his body lay, light of the world by darkness slain. Then bursting forth in glorious Day, up from the grave he rose again,” the entire student body erupted in applause, cheering, and jumping. Joy spilled through the ceiling tiles, saturating everyone in the room.
The senior in charge of the service ran up to the stage and motioned for the band to keep singing. For a brief moment, I tasted true celebration.
Our Easter celebrations should be exactly that—a celebration. Christ’s resurrection changes everything. We serve a victorious king, a risen savior, and he will return someday. His life is the very reason we have hope. When he exited the tomb on the third day, he sealed our salvation. Without the resurrection, we celebrate a dead prophet and our rejoicing is as empty as the hope of a Mardi Gras parade.
Our journey with Jesus brims with a living hope. To truly celebrate that requires a holy mélange of pain and joy.
We cannot enjoy the sweet taste of celebration without the contrasting flavors of suffering. For the Christian, celebration and pain go hand in hand—like two playmates ready to charge a playground. Our celebration is hollow until we remember the journey it took to get there.
The ragged road we trek makes the final destination that much sweeter.
The world has it wrong. Celebration isn’t an escape from pain—it isn’t about a purple and green parade of beads and booze. It’s joy in the midst of pain. Our celebration of Easter sustains us year-round because the sting of Friday isn’t the end of the story.
Sunday arrives. And Christ is risen.
Cover image by Reza Rostampisheh.