Kirk Braddan

The Vicar's Letter

From the March issue of Branch, the Kirk Braddan parish magazine


Traditions are curious phenomena. They usually begin from a single, definable event in which the original context has long been forgotten or changed, and over time becomes something quite different. Like Chinese whispers over decades or centuries. Only if we have a contemporaneous account of the original event can we look back and see why we do what we do now.

For example, Shrove Tuesday is a time when some towns historically shut down and become battlegrounds for variations on a game of football (or streetfighting, depending how you look at it). Ashbourne boards its shops up for the Royal Shrovetide Football Match and, over two days, becomes a pitch anyone who wants to join in with can.

It's unlikely The Queen will ever be seen mucking in as thousands battle over a bit of leather but, as with many of these things, the reason for it has been lost in the mists of time. There are suggestions the ball was a head following an execution, but it's more than likely a pig's bladder following the feast. Either way, without evidence, it's hard to know.

And then, yesterday, I was paying for something at a shop and saw small bunches of daffodils in a jar by the till. Immediately, I remembered children returning home from work for Mothering Sunday, picking flowers along the way, providing us with one reason why we have daffs during Lent.

Do those buying them, do those selling them, know why there have multitudes of small bunches of lovely yellow flowers? How many florists or M&S employees would be able to say how the Church and churches have provided the seasonal things now enjoyed but maybe not remembered?

Traditions, though enjoyable, entertaining and helpful are pointless if we do not remember why we uphold them. It is the act of commemorating whilst also knowing why we do it, which makes traditions important.

When I was asked recently about giving up something bad for Lent, I went to that old wisdom that if you're giving up something bad it doesn't suddenly stop being bad after Easter when you start doing it again. If you're going to give up something you shouldn't be doing, make it permanent.

The Lenten journey tradition is supposed to be about self-discovery by abandoning extraneous factors which aren't important to our fundamental physical and spiritual health. This means journeying closer to who God has made us to be. Abandoning chocolate doesn't quite have the same effect, and so giving things up for Lent has become more about the entertaining tradition than its purpose.

And, unless it's something without any redeemable quality like nicotine, giving up most things for Lent ends up being about the things which make our lives enjoyable. God gave us things to enjoy in life, not to abandon them so we could be miserable in Spring. A far better way forward is to remember why Christ went before us into the desert. He did the journeys we would fail to do because we are not the people who could do them. His liberation of us spiritually is so that we will look at what needs to be improved in our lives by turning away from bad and doing good instead.

After all, God desires mercy, not sacrifice. We sometimes dwell too much on sacrifice at this time of year rather than remember to be merciful to ourselves as well as others. The tradition of Lent is not about sacrificing things which are part of who we are or what God has given us in our life. It is about the tradition of remembering Christ bringing life in all its fullness.

Learning from his story, remembering it accurately, and reigniting Lent as a time of personal growth by reassessing our place as followers of God, through Jesus. Using this time to knuckle down into some serious recognition of what that means for us in our lives now.

Seeing that the Jesus who emerged from the tomb at Easter is not the stuff of legend whose story has become tied up with weird traditions we don't understand, but is very much alive and present today: walking constantly beside us in our everyday situations, holding us when we are weak, laughing with us when we celebrate, living with us now and leading us into eternal life.

God bless,