Cream cakes and parking spaces
A few years ago a lady church warden decided to give up cream buns for Lent.
Each day on her way to her office she usually called at the local bakers to buy four of them. She’d eat one on arrival at work, another in her morning break, a further one after her lunch and a final one on her afternoon break.
It was for her the ultimate sacrifice and a vow that would truly be an example of self denial worthy of a true Christian.
But on Ash Wednesday before she drove past the bakers she made a plea to God that if there was a parking space outside it she would know that he did not want her to abstain.
The church warden was glad that she had made such a plea. For that morning, having made a few wrong turns she passed the bakery for a sixth time and there was a parking space for her.
The smoker’s corner
During Ramadan last year a friend of mine, the headmaster at a local grammar school, was on playground duty.
He knew where the smoker’s corner was because it had not changed since he was a student at the school.
But what had changed in the intervening years was the number of pupils who were Muslim.
Just as he approached the forbidden corner he noticed that a Muslim boy was pushing something hurriedly into his blazer pocket. He was concerned that if this was a cigarette, the boy would be burnt.
So he asked him to show him what he had put into his pocket, but the student said no.
The head expounded a theological diatribe, stating that as a Christian, Jesus called him to be truthful,just as Mohammad expected the same of a teenage Muslim.
So he asked him again to be truthful, but again the student denied him, until rather sheepishly he brought out a part- consumed bag of crisps.
No matter the faith or creed and regardless of what we are giving up, we all find self denial a huge challenge.
A run of the mill vow
It is amazing what folk give up for Lent. It’s certainly not always biscuits or chocolates that face the chop. Some people are more creative with their vows.
I’m friends with a church going family in Yorkshire. After the death of his father, the eldest son of the family inherited a manufacturing business. He subsequently developed and modernised the business until he became a millionaire.
Meanwhile his younger brother fell on hard times so reluctantly the older brother offered him a job sweeping the floors of the mill. Only on the condition though that he caught one of the buses with other workers to and from the mill.
For months, each day his elder brother passed him in his chauffeur driven Rolls Royce as the younger brother waited in the bus queue. Until on one late Wednesday in February he stopped and picked him up.
Rather puzzled, once in the car, the boiler suited brother asked his pinstriped host why he was giving him a lift?
“Well it’s like this,” came the reply, “It’s the start of Lent today so for the next forty days I’ll be picking you up in your mucky clothes so the others can see my Lenten gesture. But don’t forget its back to the bus after Easter.”
Bus fares and telly bans
One of our church members told me that during Lent she would stop travelling into town on the bus and would give the fare to the church. I’m still not sure how this one worked because she had a free bus pass!
The local picture house manager meanwhile had never allowed a TV in his house. Much to his wife’s annoyance, he believed television had ruined the cinema.
On retirement he relented, but as a Christian couple he believed that in Lent they should not watch their new T.V screen.
It was only later that his wife discovered why between Ash Wednesday and Easter he was out of the house so much. He was in fact next door with his mate watching Sky Sports.
We all know folk who give up chocolates, cigarettes or alcohol but how about gardening?
As a member of the local Methodist Church a friend of mine never smoked or drank alcohol and rarely relished chocolates but he was a keen gardener; so keen in fact that he never had time to go out with his wife.
But he told her that this particular Lent he would leave his garden for God to manage, and take her out each day.
After three days he decided to take the management of the garden back again and leave his wife to God, since the sacrifice was too great.
Lents of years gone by
My annual vow to keep a diary always results in blank pages after the middle of January. The same can be said of my Lenten promises, which have regularly failed over most of my life.
I have always justified my inability to self denial with the thought that really God would not want me to suffer.
For some time after ordination I so rejoiced in my calling that there was little opportunity for me to consider a reflection of the Lenten season.
But it began to dawn on me with self examination, that Lent speaks of more than self-denial. It speaks of study, giving and a preparation for the contrasting days of Easter.
This Easter Christine and I will be in Jerusalem, so Lent this year will be a preparation for the reality of the Stations of the Cross, the Tomb and the celebration of the glorious Resurrection.
But of course there will be time for bible study, worship and the friends and family who I hold most dear.
Incidentally a little Lenten reflection: You recall my account of the elder son who gave his younger brother a lift in his Rolls Royce during Lent.
Well, on Good Friday, he invited the younger brother to his personal office and told him that after Easter he was to work in the general office and he would provide him with a small car and a decent suit.
This was maybe only a small step, but a grand gesture. I believe Lent does have a purpose too in healing relationships and granting commitment for the future.
The Reverend Priestly Brook, an Anglican priest, retired in August 2012 from the Colne and Villages Team Ministry in East Lancashire.His Bishop has granted him a licence with “Permission to Officiate”. He is married to Christine, with six grown up children. He is a well known preacher and after dinner speaker in the North of England.