I just gave all of my Mardi Gras beads to a family I visited. It has been an interesting journey. I received these same beads as a gift myself. One of the members of our congregation recently arrived at a care center to receive some rehabilitation. The Aurelia jazz band had performed for them, and all the residents were wearing their New Orleans beads in honor of the day. He pulled his off and put all three strands of them around my neck. "Here...take them...they look good on you!"
Clad in black, I wore my shiny beads the rest of the day until I saw the children eyeing them and replied: " If mom says it is OK, I would like you to have these....what color would you like?"
"I would like the purple ones", said Hannah. She took them and gave the green ones to her brother, and the gold ones to mom.
Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, I was again clad in black and in a bit more somber state without my shiny beads. Last Sunday was sort of like the "shiny beads" of life. We shared the story of how Jesus was glorified before the eyes of the disciples
and how he was met by Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration. It was quite a climb to get to this high place, and now that everything was all bright and shiny up there, no one wanted to leave. In fact, Peter, Jesus' disciple just wanted to camp out up there. If things are good, and shiny, and clean, and pleasant, and easy....why would we ever want to leave?
Jesus does leave, though. The trip down the mountain might seem easier than the trip up, but in the valley, everything loses its shine, and Jesus leads the way to another high place. They will go "up to Jerusalem" he says. No bright lights and shining white clothes await him there. Instead, his face will be darkened with blood; his clothes dirty with suffering. Jesus will not be talking with Moses and Elijah, but instead will be hanging around...or I should say, hanging between two thieves on His awful cross.
So our journey goes, too: up one hill; down another; some encouraging high moments, and dark valleys of despair. My friend in the care center is trying to make his way back from a stroke. Maybe shiny beads don't make sense to him right now.
Just as I wear the ashes of a burnt out life on my brow, I must remember that because of Jesus, God also adorns the rough ways of life with glimpses of joy. I do wear my beads.
I wear them proudly, even when I feel covered in ashes of failure, sickness, depression, or grief.
You, oh Lord, have turned my mourning into dancing!