Every year I try to give something up for Lent or pick something up. One year, for example, I decided to regularly practice a musical instrument. Another year I gave up alcohol (except for Communion). This year I gave up chocolate for the duration of Lent. I didn’t totally succeed: at one time somebody offered me a chocolate biscuit and before I realised it I had already bitten into it; when I was tramping I realised that the muesli bars I had with me contained chocolate—I still needed some energy, so I ate what I had. Also, I still had the occasional slice of chocolate cake, if it didn’t have any icing.
Giving up something like chocolate may appear an odd imposition. But it normally required some discipline: at the pre-marriage course I was leading plenty of chocolate was consumed—and I did not have any. My wife and children all ate chocolate during Lent, while I had to watch. But it means that this Resurrection Sunday I will be savouring the chocolate. I have been looking forward to that day.
I think that this is probably the best thing about Lent denial: enjoying something on a great festive day we missed for some time. The day when we remember the resurrection of Jesus is after all a day of great joy and hope. In some areas of Europe it was common in the medieval times to tell crude jokes from the pulpit to generate laughter. I think that happy celebrations and joyful music does this more effectively.
As we well know, we celebrate Easter at a time when we are sad at the death and suffering, not only of some people far away, but some we know very well. The resurrection of Jesus means that death and sin have been conquered. St Paul put it this way: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep…In Christ will all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20,22). Therefore it is possible to be joyful even in our sadness. And it is exactly because of our painful experience of loss that we can understand the joy of the resurrection more fully.