Post-Lenten penance

Eee, my back is killing — hope we make it to Santiago di Compostela by Easter!

Err, Lent is supposed to be finished by Easter Sunday. That is to say, having gone through the rituals of self-abnegation and small or large tortures inflicted upon ourselves to represent the sins we all carry with us, Christians are meant to be reprieved, aren’t they, with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross on Good Friday, bearing the sins of all, and then redemption is revealed to the world by the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Or that’s what I thought the basic catechism was, anyway.

But in Allendale, of course, we do things just slightly differently, and in particular, we’re often not too concerned with dates. There are two exceptions that would suggest that calendar discipline can be maintained, and both have to do with bonfires: the annual bonfire in Baynes field to celebrate the early capture of one Guy Fawkes before he could torch the Palace of Westminster — always but always held on ‘Remember, Remember, the 5th of November’; the annual New Year’s Eve bonfire in the Market Square preceded by the Tar Bar’l Parade — well, you can’t very well move New Year’s Eve, now can you? . . . . Every other date which others might hold sacred is really, in Allendale, a movable feast.

Thus, we celebrate Robert Burns with a traditional supper around or about the 25th of January — usually whichever Saturday evening is most convenient. We’ve often held the annual May Fair in the first week of June (though lately and this year too, it’s actually been surprising us on the second May Bank Holiday weekend!). The annual pantomime moves backward and forward throughout January and February depending on the state of rehearsal readiness the principals are in, or, more likely, whether one or another has booked a holiday that clashes. The Charity Auction in the autumn typically depends on when the Farmers’ Ball is held, and more recently it’s been spliced in to fit with the Folk Festival as well. So there’s flexibility there too.

But Easter itself is a movable date, being set as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (the vernal, or spring equinox is that point when the centre of the sun is directly above the earth’s equator, which is, effectively, always the 21st of March). Complicated or what!

So it should come as no surprise that a special Lent group from St. Cuthbert’s is carrying over a session after Easter, to make up for one that was missed earlier during the Lenten season. This week, as Sylvia Milburn kindly reports, the session may, or may not quite finish off the group’s analysis of The Ten Commandments, dealing this afternoon with the fifth or as it’s often noted: V. Honour thy father and mother.

Mostly, Sylvia says, the group are interested in the contemporary relevance of these ancient Hebrew commandments for good current spiritual life, but especially for many in the group, beloved parents may now have passed away. What relevance could Commandment V have for them? Now, far be it for me to try to interpret scripture, but as an intriguing guide to living a goodly life, there’s certainly value in biblical lessons no matter your faith or religious persuasion. So, in the instance where our parents are not with us physically any longer, I’ve thought that perhaps the terms, like ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’ could be interpreted vicariously, that is, with stand-in parents and neighbours to honour and love.

A parent figure could be anyone in a position of age, or authority, who might deserve respect, but also anyone who we might not think of as being even in that exalted category. Suppose our parent should find themselves down and out, lost to substance abuse, or penniless, broken. Is a vicarious ‘parent’ in a similar situation any less deserving of our respect? A contemporary reading of the fifth commandment might suggest that these people too are figuratively our ‘parents’, deserving as well of our honour.

Certainly advanced age in and of itself, in Japan I’ve heard, brings with it a cachet of respect and honour due, that the succeeding generations are proud to bestow. And that’s probably a cross-cultural lesson we all could stand to learn from. Even when the Lenten penance is almost, but not quite by Allendale standards, slightly off calendar!

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