MY SEMINARY PREACHING professor used to say that we should only tackle one of each week’s lectionary texts in our sermons, maybe — just maybe — tying in a second. Over the course of a career, a great preacher might have a couple of three-text sermons in her. But only a foolish preacher tries to preach all four. The problem with this month’s readings is that they contain a lot of four-text temptations. Their cumulative effect, though, tends toward incarnation: not just God enfleshed in Jesus, but God enfleshed in us all and, even, in all creation.
By the end of the month, Lazarus will be raised from the dead (John 11:1-45). He and his sisters, Mary and Martha, were among Jesus’ closest friends. So, it seems odd to me that when Jesus first hears the message that Lazarus is ill, he seems to shake it off (verses 3-4). I wonder if Jesus was surprised, then, when he learned that Lazarus had died (verse 32). I wonder if he was shaken, suddenly uncertain about his certainty. Later, Lazarus’ resurrection prefigures Christ’s own rising again in glory. But at this point in the story, we don’t yet know that life is coming. All we can see is death.
That’s the risk of incarnation; it’s the risk of not knowing. And that risk is why I find this story (and the arc that leads to it) so comforting. My comfort comes not just in knowing that Lazarus came back to life. More so, my comfort comes in knowing that, like us, Jesus — God in flesh — risks not quite knowing the way to and through the ending.