Will Willimon finds it, riffing on a conversation he once had with woman who told him, “I’m so glad next week is Ash Wednesday”:
Glad for Ash Wednesday? I pressed for more. She responded, “You don’t know me that well, but I was the victim of sexual abuse by a relative when I was a young teenager. Spent years in therapy trying to get over it. Pop-spirituality and feel-good religion were just no help to me. That’s why I’m glad that we are coming to that time of the year when the church makes us put all the injustice, sin, blood and guilt on the altar and forces us to look at it and let God deal with it.”
Rejoice. It’s Lent. This is when the poor, old, bumbling church courageously reminds us of the joy of letting go of our illusions about ourselves. We offer our lives not to a God with high standards of conduct, but to a God who loves us as we are and forgives the worst in us.
My favorite theologian, Karl Barth, said that “only Christians sin.” He meant that only Christians know the joy of a God who forgives and thus can be frank about their sin. There is a sense in which awareness of God’s grace comes before, and not after, true and honest repentance. The person who doesn’t know a gracious God can never be truly honest about sin.
On Ash Wednesday this week, Nadia Bolz Weber argued that people who find the first day of Lent depressing “totally don’t get it”: