The first time I encountered the season of Lent a friend of mine invited me to attend his church. I was not a Christian, I thought. I had left the church of my childhood, renounced it, because I had learned that being a Christian was primarily about ideas. And they were ideas that I couldn’t accept. They seemed crazy to me at the time. That the death of someone I never knew could somehow save me from a danger I didn’t face.
If you don’t accept the idea that sacrificial substitution works as a mechanism in the universe, then this explanation of God will never make sense to you either. Not in the way it was presented to me, anyway. I don’t believe that there is a God who requires payment. My God is not that commercially driven. She is not a pay-per-failure kind of God.
God does not ticket us for parking in the wrong place. We have the civil authorities for that, and they do a pretty good job of it. God, on the other hand, wants love, not restitution. God offers restoration not retribution. But I didn’t think that this God was present in Christian churches, until that first Lent.
It was a strange land, that sanctuary I went to with my friend. They spoke a language I didn’t know and sang songs that sounded odd to my ears. But they invited me to share a meal with them and it was an invitation extended to me without reservation and without requirement. This bread is for you, they said. This cup is for you, they offered.
And the meal began the relationship, with that community, with that culture, with that God—who turned out to be a God of restoration and love. Who knew you could find that God in a Christian place? It was news to me.