“It’s Good to Be Here” February 23, 2020
“It’s Good to Be Here”
Exodus 24:12-18/ 2 Peter 1:16-21
For the last week or so, I have been getting pictures from my daughter of the goings-on that happen in New Orleans at this time of year. A lot of it has to do with food. For example, there are traditional Mardi Gras pastries that show up every year. I can’t say I know much about them except they look like they are dripping with calories and they are colored like fishing lures. Purple, gold, red, bright green – these are not what we would normally see on a cinnamon roll. But hey, it’s Mardi Gras. Even the food that gets thrown to the crowds during the parades is… different. No, these folks above and beyond hard candy and tootsie rolls. I had to laugh at a picture she sent of a plastic baggie laying on a bunch of beads of all colors. The label on the bag read, “Van Holten’s BIG PAPA Hearty Dill Pickle.” Her caption to the pic read simply, “You never know what you’ll catch.” So, yeah, I can’t say as I’ve ever been to a parade where it was raining pickles, but hey, it’s Mardi Gras.
But let’s not lose sight of what started this whacky tradition. It is not a new thing; nor is it unique to New Orleans and the south. In Italy, Mardi Gras is called Martedi Grasso; translated as Fat Tuesday. Basically, in preparation for the long fasting period of Lent that begins on Ash Wednesday, folks figured long ago that this would be a good time to eat up all the greasy food they’ve been hanging onto through the winter. Spring is just around the corner, winter is almost over – let’s throw a party, let’s live it up! That celebration has evolved over the years, of course, and even though it had its roots in the Catholic church, the carnival we call Mardis Gras has taken on a life of its own. What used to be a single day preparing for the 40 day period of Lent has turned into a week of carnivals preparing for…..well, that’s just it. Somewhere along the way, the idea of devoting almost 6 weeks to prayer and fasting, repentance and penance has lost its appeal. It’s definitely something you don’t throw a big party for; but you know, that’s kind of a shame. I like the idea of Lent. I like the idea of being told, “It’s time. It’s time to get your act together; it’s time reexamine your prayer life; it’s time to show some true repentance for the all the times you’ve dropped the ball, missed the mark, and otherwise just goofed up. Someone once said that, “If we were knives, Lent would be a time to get sharpened. If we were cars, Lent would be a time for an oil change and a tune up. If we were batteries, Lent would be a time to get recharged.” Instead, it seems that the Lenten season has become this mysterious, confusing thing and all we know for sure is that we’re supposed to give something up.
I swore to myself that I wouldn’t do this, but I just can’t resist this from the archives of Father Tony Kadavil: A Catholic priest working in the inner city was walking down an alley one night on his way home when a young man came up behind him, poked a knife in his back, and said, “Give me your money.”
The priest opened his jacket and reached in to grab his wallet. As he did this, he exposed his clerical collar. “Oh, I’m sorry, Father,” the young man said. “I didn’t see your collar. I don’t want YOUR money.” Trembling from the scare and hoping to ease the situation, the priest removed a cigar from his front pocket and offered it to the young man. “Here,” he said, “have a cigar.” “Oh, no, I can’t do that,” the young man said, “I gave them up for Lent.”
You know, I can’t help but think that a little celebration before the season of Lent is maybe not such a bad idea after all. If we are to take this time seriously, why not kick it off with laughter and light and love instead of a sense of dread. When Jesus took James and John and Peter to the top of the mountain, he had a good reason. He knew the days ahead were going to be rough. He knew his disciples would be mocked, spit upon, and would fear for their lives. He himself would be betrayed, arrested, and beaten before the final humiliation of crucifixion. Yet these were his chosen ones; the ones who would continue his ministry into the world once he was gone. These were his beloved. How would they hold up when the world turned against them? The account of the Transfiguration of Christ is told in all 3 of the synoptic gospel – Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The language is a little different from book to book, but the message is the same: Jesus revealed himself to the disciples in all his glory not to scare them, but to give them hope; to give them strength; to give them purpose. “Lord, it is good to be here,” Peter said. Seems like a weird thing to say at first. Most people might say something more like, “Lord, let’s get out of here!” but Peter got it; Peter sensed that he was in the presence of the divine. “Lord, it is good to be here. This is a good place to be.”
And so, as we approach the Lenten season, let’s keep this in mind. We are an Easter people; we are a resurrection people. We are a people chosen to bring the good news to a world that craves it; we are a people called to be the gospel in a world that is starving for it. No matter how the winds blow in our nation, in our denomination, or in our own church body, let’s hold onto those mountaintop moments in our faith; those moments when all seemed false, yet God was faithful; those moments when our sin would crush us, yet God was merciful; those moments when death seemed to have the final say, yet God came to live among us to show us that he is stronger than death itself. I know this sounds like soap-box preaching, but it’s true. We serve a risen Lord, we are loved beyond understanding by a risen Lord, and we have seen – each in their own way – the glory of a risen Lord. Peter said it right; Peter said it best, “It is good to be here.”
Amen & Shalom