Some Thoughts on Preaching Lent 5A (John 11:1-45)

It feels odd to speak of resurrection the week before Palm Sunday.

During Lent, we have been on a steady and somber journey toward Jesus’ crucifixion, trying to forget the end of the story for the sake of experiencing its fullness. We wear ashes (literally and figuratively), we fast, we do not let the “A” (or “H”?) word escape our lips. And yet here, on the cusp of despair and tragedy, we have stories of resurrection? It feels like our bulletins this week should contain a spoiler alert.

On the one hand, it’s odd—and even a little annoying–to have to preach on resurrection during the fifth Sunday of Lent. It interrupts our carefully crafted emotional and narrative flow.

On the other hand, this is the reality in which we, as Christians, live. In the midst of death, there is resurrection. And in the midst of new life, there is death. Both. And.

When their brother dies, Mary and Martha weep. Even though they believe in the final resurrection and in the power of Jesus, they still grieve.  

When Jesus learns of his friend’s death, he weeps. Even though he surely knows that he can and will raise Lazarus, the grief of death is still present.

I have realized that I carry a lot of expectations for myself about how I should feel, a lot of thoughts about how I think other people think I should feel. And when my feelings don’t match all of the expectations, sometimes I wonder what is wrong with me.

In my more centered moments, I know that my feelings are not wrong, they simply are. I know that most situations in life involve a mix of beauty and brokenness, joy and grief, pain and pleasure. I know that there is no such thing as a smooth emotional flow when it comes to real life. We run into spoiler after spoiler—and still, so much remains mystery.

Perhaps these narratives of resurrection are just what we need at this tense and tender point in the story—the biblical story and our own.