Updated: Jan 31
Last Monday was Epiphany. This is the first Sunday after. Who brought the king cake?
The season of Mardi Gras is upon us. It is Carnival time. It is time to celebrate the new king’s crowning, before we head into Lent. God’s promised king is here! Long live the king!
For myself, having not grown up Catholic or Episcopal, and having not grown up along the gulf coast of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi or anywhere in Louisiana, I never knew Mardi Gras. I certainly knew nothing about king cakes, until a neighbor of mine introduced me to them by bringing one to our family, as a gift.
They were true Cajuns and told me the cakes were a tradition. They said there was a small plastic baby baked into the cake, and there was some meaning to being the one who got the piece with the baby in it.
The cake was sweet. There was a plastic baby in it. And, I had no idea why it was called a “king cake.” I might have thought … if I thought anything about it … that it was named after Martin Luther King.
It was relatively recent that I learned Mardi Gras was related to a Holy season. Prior to that, I had only associated Mardi Gras with New Orleans, and (to be honest) I saw all the revelry, costumes, and beads as a sign of decadence, not something divinely manifested.
I misunderstood the meaning behind the celebration; and I did not understand the season of Epiphany.
Maybe, if some of you have religious backgrounds similar as mine, you have struggled with understanding the Mardi Gras season too.
For those that know this already, please bear with me.
The words “Mardi Gras” are French, meaning “Fat Tuesday.” That is the day before “Ash Wednesday.” So, we have entered into in the fattening season, before we go through 40-days of sacrifice, during Lent.
As for the meaning of king cakes, I looked that up. There are two schools of thought on them. One is based on the cake coming with a crown around it. The crown is removed and the cake is divided and passed out. The one who finds the bean or baby gets to wear the crown. The “winner” becomes king for the day.
The other idea says: If you get the piece of cake with the bean or baby in it, then you bring the king cake tomorrow (or the next time) … up until Fat Tuesday.
Either way, there is a “tag, you’re it” concept behind the consumption of a fattening food.
This is then complimentary to the meaning of “Epiphany,” which is seen as a “divine manifestation.” The baby (or bean) represents Christ, who has been born, of divine origin.
The season of Epiphany is marked as beginning when Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, in the Jordan River. At that time, the skies open and the voice of God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
That was an epiphany for Jesus.
That reading from Matthew, however, cannot be the only focus for today. What Matthew wrote needs to be incorporated with the other readings that accompany it.
Clearly, in Isaiah, we see how Jesus was to be the “servant upheld by God, in whom God’s soul delights.” In other words, God was “well pleased.”
In David’s psalm (Psalm 29), we see how “the LORD shall give his people the blessing of peace.” That peace and goodwill towards men is what Jesus was to the world.
In the Book of Acts, Peter proclaimed, “You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all.” Christ is the king. All praise the Lord, Christ the King!
Still, the message of Epiphany, as symbolized by the baby in the king cake, has to be seen as God sending the light of Christ to the world, through a divine manifestation. That light was sent to give “light to all nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
Jesus is that light, and Jesus would come to find “a dimly burning wick [that] he (would) not quench.” Instead, Jesus would fan the flames to that dimly burning wick, so the light rose and still shines brightly. Still, to maintain that brightness, Jesus needs lots of new wicks … constantly.
In that way, Christians are the keeper of the flame, the bearer of the light of Christ.
As Peter said, “[Christ] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that (Jesus) is the one ordained by God.” Peter, a disciple elevated to the level of Apostle, was ordered, as in ordained, to preach as a witness to Jesus Christ. Thus, all of the Apostles were ordained as well, as the keepers of the flame, to bring continuous light to a darkened world.
Christianity is the light of Christ spread by Apostles. Apostles are ordained by Christ. Apostles speak as Christ, the Beloved, with whom God was, is, and always be well pleased. Apostles speak as Christ, through the Holy Spirit.
The one who gets the piece of the king cake with the bean or the baby in it is then symbolizing the one who has been blessed by Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit. That is the Apostle who gets to wear the crown of Christ, as the new flame that lights the way for others to follow.
As a cake can be seen as bread, made from flour, milk, and eggs, it represents the body of Christ that must first be consumed and digested, in order to receive the spirit. As the one receiving the bean or baby, one is then also obligated … ordered and commanded … to try and let others to get the piece of king cake with the bean or baby inside.
The “tag, you’re it” concept is what we should be celebrating each Epiphany season. We should be getting fat on the knowledge that “all the prophets testify about Jesus as Christ.”
The Holy Spirit tells us what the prophets meant. The Apostles, being filled with the Holy Spirit, teach the lessons of that meaning.
We should be storing up enough faith and light so “that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” For that forgiveness, we need to understand what that means.
Peter said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” That is a statement that being a chosen one of God is not enough to go to Heaven. Just because you get a piece of king cake, you are not forgiven of all sins because you believe somewhere in the cake is a bean or plastic baby.
You have to strive for that prize, keep trying, and getting fat on the bread until you ignite with the spirit. You have to keep trying, in order to get lasting forgiveness of sins.
When Peter said God showed no partiality, he meant the Jews were not saved and forgiven of sins because they professed faith in God. Both Israel and Judah professed that faith as they were being overrun and enslaved by conquering forces. If only they acted from a fear of God, doing rightful things, the outcome might have been different. If only their ACTS had been like those of Apostles, they would they be saved.
When you get the slice of cake with the bean or baby in it, the symbolism is you have received the Holy Spirit. You then do rightful things because you know the power of the LORD within you. When you know the peace of the LORD as a state of pure enlightenment, then you never want to leave state, much less forfeit it.
By being filled with the Holy Spirit, your acts will forever more be acceptable to God. Your acts will be to get others to realize the same ecstatic state if bliss. You want to teach them what you see in the words of prophecy.
As an Apostle, you want to open eyes so they too can see. You want to open ears so they can hear the voice of God speaking to them. You want to send to them, by their faith in Jesus Christ, what you have. With the mind of Christ in you, you become the Advocate others need to find. You meet other Christians, true seekers of truth, and tell them to open their hearts and receive the Holy Spirit.
You want to say, “Tag. Now you have it.”
So, if you have a slice of king cake this season, but yours does not have the bean inside, no baby Jesus, the cheer up. There’s still time! Keep trying! Don’t give up.
This season is all about getting fat with that knowledge and faith. When Lent comes, we fast and trust that our acts will be sustained through a God-given power and inner peace. If we survive the 40-day training camp, with Christ as our Drill Instructor, then we can begin our ministry as a servant of the LORD. That ministry lasts for the remainder of a lifetime.
On that day, when you “get the bean” that you feel deep within you, the heavens will open to us individually. Each of us so fortunate will be able to see the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on us, as Apostles of Christ. Our inner ears will be capable of hearing the voice of God say, “This Spirit within you, guiding you, is my Son’s Spirit, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.