John 11:1-45 (5th Sunday in Lent) – March 26, 2023

John 11:1-45 – Fifth Sunday in Lent


I am not sure how I want to read the Gospel story this week given all that’s going on in Biblical Studies. If you haven’t heard by now, there is fascinating discussion around John 11 that is happening in Biblical Studies because of the work of Elizabeth Schrader Polczer. Her work exploded when Diana Butler Bass gave a sermon at the Goose Festival in July of 2022. In short, Elizabeth Schrader Polczer has discovered significant evidence from the ancient manuscripts that there may be no “Martha” in this story. But that John 11 is only about Mary and Lazarus. The name “Martha” may have been written in later by an editor (in theory trying to connect to the sisters of Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Luke). And so, without Martha, it could then be suggested that this Mary is the same Mary at the tomb, Mary Magdalene.

If you haven’t heard about this yet, I encourage you to read Diana Butler Bass’ sermon and then take a listen to her most recent interview with Elizabeth Schrader Polczer.

Original Sermon/Blog

Podcast Interview

This *could* lead to the most significant change in translation in a very long time. So, how do we preach this text?

The truth is that the themes still hold true. Whether spoken by Martha or Mary, the powerful lines of Resurrection promise come from these amazing female figures. The tragic line of grief, “Lord, if you had been here…” still flows from her lips even in spite of her belief. Jesus weeps.


Many commentators look at this text as a pre-easter Easter. A resurrection story. Afterall, it’s one of the more common funeral texts. It’s good and right to connect this with THE resurrection. A foretaste of the festival to come.

But as I have said over the last couple of weeks, the themes are bountiful. We can certainly pick one and preach on a thematic concept. We can preach in line with the Baptismal/catechetical themes of death to new life as the early church may have wanted. We have died to our sin, and we are arising in new life with Christ, “Lazarus, come out!”

But again, I think there is an opportunity to look at the characters of this story.


With the character of Mary, rather than repeat the interview, I highly encourage you to listen to the Podcast and hear the beautiful connections of Mary as a central character in the Gospel. Please give this interview a listen. And please listen until the very end. The last 8 minutes when Elizabeth shares a way of preaching this text with/without Mary and Martha (and how the edited text may have been inspired by the Holy Spirit for a time) is so incredibly beautiful.

To add a couple thoughts around the narrative of the text:

What is remarkable about the Martha/Mary character(s) is that there is this profound Christological confession (“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”) that takes place BEFORE the miracle. And so, there is this beautiful tension between doubt and faith at this moment. Mary/Martha believe in the resurrection, and yet, they share the most heartbreaking words in the Gospel, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Faith does not dispel grief. Faith does eliminate pain or hardship. But faith does allow us to lament and to lament fully. We can believe with the faith of these amazing figures of the Gospel that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. And we can be human like these amazing figures and struggle with the pain and grief of loss and death. And God hears all of those cries.


There is a lot of speculation as to why Jesus weeps in this moment.

Maybe he cries because of his love for Lazarus, which I think is true.

Maybe he cries because of seeing all those around him in pain, which I think is true.

But maybe, this question of lament from Mary… “Lord, if you had been here” … breaks his heart. The thought that these people, children of God, felt abandoned by God in their moment of need, in their moments of grief, was the most painful thing that God could hear.

Lord, if you had been here…

Jesus wept.

Jesus heard the profound confession. Jesus gave additional promises. And still grief surrounded Mary/Martha and the whole community. The whole community looked to Jesus with those words, “Lord, if you had been here…”

Throughout scripture, God has comforted God’s people with the promise of presence. God’s presence surrounds God’s people and God never abandons us. And yet here, in this moment, the most faithful disciples doubted the presence of God. Jesus wept.

It means something that Jesus wept. It is significant that we serve and love a God who knows what it is to grieve. It is vital that we know that God laments when we feel abandoned.

So much of the Gospel of John right after this, is the promise of the Advocate, the comforter. God is so disturbed at the thought of God’s people feeling abandoned, that Jesus, God incarnate—who came so that all might feel even greater connection with God—promises us the everlasting presence of God in the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we never feel abandoned again.

Yes, this story is about resurrection. Yes, the connections of Mary here and Mary at the tomb are profoundly beautiful. But we also have an opportunity to see our God in action in a moment when light needs to shine in the shadows. Today we are reminded of God’s presence in our deepest times of sorrow, grief, and tragedy. Today God weeps, wanting us to know that God was always there.

Preaching Possibilities


One more time I’ll plug the podcast (linked above). The whole interview is phenomenal but the last 8 minutes are life changing.

Jesus Wept/Grief and Faith

We may want to jump to resurrection. But wonderfully, John gives us an opportunity to talk about the in between. The last few years have been so challenging for grief in our congregations. Funerals and memorial services were delayed, postponed, missed altogether. People lamented in isolation. People grieved alone because the world was already grieving so many things. And now, the world wants to jump back into normalcy and skip over all the grief.

I have heard the cries, “Pastor, why didn’t you visit?” “Pastor, why did nobody call?” “Pastor, when will it get easier?”

This is an opportunity to preach on the presence of God. This is an opportunity to preach on the presence of community and our need to return to caring for one another again. This is an opportunity to preach on lament as a faithful expression of our faith.

We don’t need to jump straight to resurrection.

One thought on “John 11:1-45 (5th Sunday in Lent) – March 26, 2023

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  1. Micah, thank you for all your work on this website. I look forward to seeing you have to post every week. I had the pleasure of attending General Seminary a year that Libbie Schraeder was there. It was such a learning experience sitting in the same class as Libbie. Even as a student she stood out. I was lucky — I got to go to class with both you and Libbie! Small world this world of pastoring!


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