The readings for the Second Sunday after Pentecost can be found here.
If you have a look at our reading from Genesis, you’ll find a strange story about Abraham, Sarah, and some strange, divine, visitors. With all of our recent talk about the Holy Trinity, you might have noticed that we’re told that the Lord appears to Abraham in the form of these three men, and that the way the narrator refers to these three changes from singular to plural and back again. From the earliest days of the church, it was thought that perhaps this text was hinting at the Triune nature of God, revealed at least in part to Abraham and Sarah and their community in this encounter.
And it sure is a strange encounter. The Lord appears to Abraham, and it seems that all he can do is busy himself trying to feed them. As if God needs his hunger attended to. But, in some mysterious way, it is Abraham and Sarah seeking to be hospitable that draws them deeper into relationship with God.
For it is around the table, as they eat, that one of these men says that he will return in due season, and that Sarah will bear a son.
Which is painful and ridiculous and hilarious. Sarah, listening in from a bit of a distance, can’t help but laugh. She and Abraham had been promised a Son – an endless bloodline, in fact, to make their name great among the nations. But that promise has gone unfulfilled. Sarah is confronted with old age, and she has accepted that her hopes and dreams will not work out as she had imagined.
So when she hears that she will bear a son, she laughs. It’s not the kind of laugh that follows a well-told joke. No, it’s the kind of mirthless laugh that is all that is left when deep pain meets impossible promise. If only, she wants to say. As if.
But, her laugh is more. The theologian Rusty Reno writes that “Sarah’s laughter is doubt turned to prophesy.” Because, of course, God is faithful, and Sarah does indeed bear a son despite her old age, and despite her certainty that such a thing was impossible.
And then, her laughter returns, but of a joyful kind this time. That everyone who has experienced pain and loss and resignation might hear her laughter and know that God is faithful. That they might see their pain and loss and resignation likewise transformed into amazement and joy, and laugh right along with her.
It seems to me that we have many reasons to laugh these days, in the same way that Sarah first laughs when she overhears this impossible promise. We have countless reasons to feel jaded, resigned, and sure that the things we had hoped for have escaped us for good.
So may we laugh. And may our laughter be our doubts turned to prophesy. For God is yet with us, and the best is yet to come.