I'm always amazed by the people who never spare a thought for God in their everyday lives, but get very legalistic about abstaining from meat on Good Friday - sometimes to the point of being horrified when someone else does eat meat on that day - and I'm not just talking about Catholics. Now there's nothing wrong with abstaining from meat - and there are many good reasons to do so, not all of them religious. But I can't help thinking this legalistic approach kind of misses the point.
After all, didn't Jesus say it's not what a person puts into their mouth that defiles them, but what comes out of their mouth (Matthew 15:11).
I don't think this means we should just scrap the rule about not eating meat on Good Friday - at least for those who want to keep abstaining. I believe that symbolic actions and practices like this are important, meaningful and help turn our thoughts towards God.
But those symbolic actions should never become more important than the reason behind those symbolic actions.
It's pointless abstaining from meat if we don't give any thought to why we might be abstaining from meat.
So why do we?
The reason behind abstaining from meat on Good Friday was to share in the sufferings of Jesus. By denying ourselves, we entered into the suffering that Jesus underwent on that day. And by denying ourselves, hopefully we remember that suffering - because we too are suffering.
Okay, confession time. The meal I eat on Good Friday is often one of the best meals I eat that year. Because while I eat fish and vegetarian meals frequently, I make the Good Friday meal a little bit fancy and a little bit special.
And that kind of defeats the purpose.
Or maybe not.
Because in reality, what actually matters about abstaining from meat is whether we are remembering the suffering of Jesus. We don't have to do this by eating fish. We can do it by denying ourselves something else. We can do this by reflecting on the crucifixion. We can do this by remembering the suffering of people around the world.
You can do this while eating a big beefy steak or a meat pie or a baked fish dish or a bowl of rice.
It's not what we put into our mouths that defile us, it's what comes out of our mouth.
It's what's in our hearts.
And it's the suffering of Jesus that is important - and the suffering of the whole world that he entered into - rather than what we eat.
How we reflect and think about that suffering is up to us. For some, it may mean abstaining from meat. Others may choose different ways to remember it. But it definitely shouldn't become a legalistic rule where abstaining from meat is more important than our reasons for doing so.