Thursday, April 25, 2013

Good Attitude

DFC_20120824_PediAwareness_Thrv01_CaitlynnePhilippians 2:5-11
by Daniel Harrell

This has been a bad week: from the winter that won’t quit to Senate gun debates and a shaky stock market, from the horrible fertilizer factory explosion in Texas to the horrific Boston Marathon mayhem that played out like something from a Scorsese movie. As one website put it, “Maybe next time we have a week, they can try not to pack it so completely to the freaking brim with explosions, mutilations, death, manhunts, lies, weeping, bloody gunfights and lockdowns. You know, maybe try to spread some of that total misery across the other 51 weeks in the year. Just a thought.” None of it ever makes any sense. Dawn and I knew people who knew each of three victims killed at the Marathon on Monday. For such a large city, Boston can be a pretty small town. We know people who knew Sean Collier, the MIT police officer. We have friends who were at the hospital when Richard Donahue, the wounded transit cop was brought in and the first bombing suspect too. We know folks who lived down the street from the house with the boat.

My former church in Boston held a prayer gathering downtown on Tuesday. It was a full house. Then President Obama spoke to a packed South End Cathedral on Thursday. I find it fascinating and strangely comforting that the initial impulse of so many people following tragedy—believers and nonbelievers—alike, is to pray. Rather than fretting over “where was God” or how he could allow bad things to happen, the initial impulse for many is to rush to where they believe God can be found. That we do so instinctively turn to God in our troubles, and for some only then, may suggest why Scripture has God allowing the troubles he allows. We realize afresh every Easter season how the spring bloom of resurrection and eternal life emerges solely from the fertile soil of suffering and death. Paul joyfully expressed this disturbing gospel truth to the Philippians as he sat chained in a Roman prison. Jesus himself, King of kings and Lord of lords, is crowned only once he submits to death on a cross. This is God’s glory, Paul writes, a strange and redemptive reality that shines at the center of the Christian faith.

This morning marks our third in a sermon series: “verses from Philippians most likely to be cross-stitched.” From his Roman imprisonment to what was likely the first church in Europe, Paul penned words that have become framed favorites among believers for centuries. We began with chapter 1 and verse 6: “the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Last Sunday we looked at verse 21: “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” This morning brings us to chapter 2:5-11 and one of the grandest Christological expressions of all Scripture. These inspired and inspiring verses soar in their praise of Jesus Christ as the lowly turned lofty Son of God whose name, in fulfillment of all prophecy, spurs every knee to bow and every tongue to confess his Lordship.

While Paul hoped for release from prison and a return trip to Philippi, he knew chances were good he could end up executed for refusing to worship Caesar as Lord. Paul wasn’t worried about dying—to him that was gain—but he was worried for the Philippians. Like any church comprised of sinful people (which is every church), it risked division and rancor from within. Paul appealed to the unity that was already theirs in Christ, even if they had yet to fully experience it. He writes, “If there is any encouragement in Christ (which there is), any consolation from love (which there is), any sharing in the Spirit (which there is), any compassion and sympathy (which there is), then make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind—the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

By “one and the same mind” Paul meant that mindset of abject humility that drove Jesus to the cross. While admired, such humility is rarely sought and often begrudged as hazardous to your psychological health. In a culture where self-confidence and ambition are paramount, Paul’s admonition to “regard others as better than yourself” is just plain bad advice. Still, Paul lyrically points to Jesus’ humility as the hallmark of virtue, who despite being God in the flesh never considered equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself for our sake and became a slave, regarding us as better than himself, as impossible as that sounds. Maybe it came easy for Jesus. If you’re equal to God you can act as humbly as you choose and still be God.
Harder for us ordinary schmoes. For us to regard others as better than ourselves is a sure recipe for life in loser-land. Be a doormat and you’ll get treated like one. “Blessed are the meek,” Jesus said “only those who humble themselves will be exalted.” But this simply isn’t practical. Christian scholars have tried to lessen the impact by insisting that by “humble yourself” Jesus only meant that you acknowledge your intrinsic “creatureliness.” Since the English word humility is related to the word human, both deriving from the Latin word humus, meaning ground or earth, to be humble is to remember where you came from, that you are “dust and to dust you shall return,” that the meek shall inherit the dirt. On the one hand this punctures any inflated sense of self-worth or conceit, but on the other hand, it also can become a rationale for self-conceit or used as an excuse for self-centered behavior. When we choose badly we'll often plead, “I can’t help it, I’m only human.” And then of course, there’s the observation about how it really doesn’t do much good to exalt the humble anyway. People don't remain humble long once they’re exalted. The genuine article is hard to find.

Then again, we watched on Monday as scores of Bostonians, with little concern for themselves, ran toward the explosions, assisting the bloodied and injured in humble ways that were nothing short of heroic. The same with the way an entire whole city willingly abandoned the streets to make space for the bravery exhibited by scores of law enforcement personnel, police who then humbly discounted their bravery as just doing their job. It was another glimpse of the beauty that can emerge from intense sorrow and tragedy—a beauty which the Bible labels as the power of resurrection.

I talked to a number of Boston friends this week, and read the Tweets and Facebook posts of others. One of whom, named Steve, is a big Marathon fan, having run the race himself five years in a row. Steve is an assistant church facilities manager and a good athlete, but far from what you’d describe as an elite runner. The joy of competition or setting a good time was not what got him to run 26 miles. What got him running was the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a local hospital devoted to eradicating cancer in children. Thousands of weekend runners raise money running the Marathon every year. This is another reason the Boston Marathon is so sacred. The ones who run for charity are never the elite runners, they cross the finish line  a couple of hours after. It was mostly them and their supporters who were harmed by Monday’s bombing, and who remain fearlessly determined to run again next year.
For Steve, his passion for children’s cancer comes from the cancer his daughter Caitlynne contracted when she was seven. The good news was that her tumor was localized in her right leg. The bad news was that her leg had to be amputated. Steve and his wife Doreen were totally devastated, as were all of their friends. And yet we all rallied, including the Boston Red Sox and their Jimmy Fund, coming alongside their whole family with prayer and support, because that’s what people instinctively do when tragedy strikes, believers and nonbelievers alike. Steve and I were remembering this week the hours spent on the say of Caitlynne's surgery. She not only survived, but thrived, thanks to all this support and to a remarkable piece of surgery performed at Children’s Hospital.

Out of sheer gratitude for all of this, Steve started running the Marathon to raise money for other kids. And each year, during the last mile, Caitlynne ran with him. She’s 18 years old now and has received a full ride to Boston University. It is another glimpse of the beauty that can emerge from sorrow and tragedy—the power of resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus turned tragedy on its head. Suddenly loss now meant gain, leastness meant greatness, being a loser meant being a winner, death meant life, ankles become knees, and humility became the epitome of strength. It sounds crazy, and by itself, humility is crazy. But humility is never meant for humility’s sake. Christian humility serves the cause of love. It was love for sinners that caused Jesus to humbly set aside his right to exalted grandeur, and it is this same love, this same mind, that spurs us to humbly regard others as better than ourselves. Humility orients you away from delusions of self-importance and frees you to love courageously as Jesus modeled. “We love,” the apostle John famously wrote, “because God first loved us.”

Despite all the horrors that engulf our world, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Love never fails. Jesus’ love even conquered death, so we cannot lose heart. God who began his good work among us will bring it to completion himself. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Christian hope translates life’s tragedies into a beautiful tapestry of redemption, pointing toward that day, when by grace, all things will be made new and love remains. Confidence in that day gives us courage to live humbly in the present—as justice gets done against perpetrators of evil, as comfort is blanketed on those who mourn, as prayers are instinctively offered for peace, as doctors reconstruct bodies as previews of resurrection itself, as thousands run marathons to raise awareness and money for these causes, even as our own InnovĂ© project refashions profit-making business into the making of beauty and peace and justice and grace in the world—everything humbly done to serve the cause of love which is the cause of the name that is above every name and before which every knee and ankle that serves as a knee will bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Job Well Done

Philippians 1:3-11
by Daniel Harrell

Some things just take a long time to complete. Back in 1992 my wife Dawn decided she’d cross-stitch a Christmas present for her father who’s always loved gifts made by his daughters. For Dawn, the subject of the cross-stitch wasn’t so hard to decide: her dad served as a medical missionary in Angola and enjoyed CS Lewis. Put together Africa and Aslan and that meant cross-stitching a lion. Ten Christmases later, in 2002, Dawn was still working on that lion. Initially the problem was that the pattern was too tiny to read—so she enlarged it into eight pages taped together. It covered her bedroom floor. Not only was the pattern intricate, but it required some 200 different colors of brown thread—who knew brown came in so many shades? She’d gotten fairly deep into the project when she realized her count was off. So she ripped out the stitches and started over. The same thing happened a second time, causing no small amount of frustration.  Dawn began to resent her pet cat just for being a distant lion relative. 

Her sister intervened, and forbade that Dawn rip out the stitches out a third time. Her sister said that cross-stitching, like life itself, gets complicated and you inevitably lose count. The challenge is to deal with it and move on. Which is easier said than done. Daunted by both the enormity of the undertaking and the lack of headway despite her diligence, Dawn boxed and re-boxed the lion as she moved and married over another ten years. Some things just take a long time to complete.

This applies to people too. I received a framed, cross-stitched rendition of Philippians 1:6 many years ago: “The one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” It was crafted for me by an old girlfriend as her way (I think) of reminding me that I had plenty of room for improvement. You may remember my preaching this verse on New Year’s Day a couple of years back. New Year’s always brings with it resolutions for a better future--a calendar inspired chance to finish things this time that we’ve failed get done in the past. We resolve to be better people, to make those changes we need to make. And yet having tried and failed so many times before, most of us refrain from resolutions because we know we can’t keep them. Why compound the failure with only more frustration? Better to just box up the whole mess and avoid the disappointment. 

But this is what makes Philippians 1:6 such good news. You don’t have to try so hard anymore. You don’t have to avoid disappointment. “The one” who began a good work in you is no other than God himself. And He’s the one who promises to bring it all to completion.

Philippians is a favorite among the apostle Paul’s letters. Many of its verses are habitually committed to memory. They appear on greeting cards, t-shirts and websites, and they get cross-stitched for gifts. It is to these particular verses in Philippians, the ones most likely to be cross-stitched, that I’d like to devote my energies for this Eastertide and into Pentecost.
Paul embedded this verse within an extended salutation wherein he thanks the nascent Philippian church for their financial support. He describes their support as their sharing or “partnership” in the gospel—the gospel being the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Nevertheless, as I mentioned last Sunday, the resurrection can be very upsetting. For Jesus to rise from the dead means that everything said about him is true: He is the Son of the Living God, the King of kings, Truth and Life, Master and Lord. To believe in Jesus means you have to live your whole life differently--which Paul and the Philippians were only to eager to do. 

Their “sharing” in the gospel is a translation of the Greek word koinonia which we typically translate as fellowship. Koinonia means to have all things in common; it’s where we get words like community and communion. Koinonia was epitomized in these early churches where everybody gave up everything so that no one would need anything—these communities held all things in common. In this way fellowship is connected to stewardship, the economic concern Christians share for each other’s well-being, and a convenient way to remind you that our church fiscal year ends this month and yes we’re running behind again.

The koinonia of Philippians 1 is certainly economic. The life and mission of the church always requires financial support. And generous giving grows out of a generosity of spirit. “Your heart is where your treasure is,” Jesus taught, meaning that you can tell everything about a person by what they do with their money. Therefore Paul speaks to a koinonia of spirit--both with Jesus and with each other. It is love for God and neighbor that motivates us. Elsewhere Paul writes about the right hand of fellowship (koinonia), which we still extend to each other whenever we pass the peace. More than a handshake, the right hand of koinonia tangibly acknowledges our common bond to each other through Christ. In 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks of communion as our koinonia in the body and blood of Jesus. More than partaking of bread and wine, communion is our partnership in the Jesus’ death and resurrection: His dying and rising will be our dying and rising too. No longer fearful of any condemnation due to our sin, the communion table looks to that day when we will rise to feast with Jesus at his table forever. God who began his good work in us will definitely get it done.

Specifically described as God’s good work yet to be completed, Paul’s emphasis in Philippians is plainly on the future. His gospel reference is to God’s saving work, which we all know can take a lifetime. Christians might customarily speak of somebody getting saved, but in reality we’re just as much people in the process of being saved. Like Peter who sank when he tried to walk to Jesus on the open sea, our troubles and doubts still overwhelm us and drag us down too even with Jesus right in front of us. Paul pens these words while chained in a Roman prison with no guarantee of earthly release. For Paul, the “day of Jesus Christ” might mean the day that he dies, and he’s fine with that. “To live is Christ and to die is gain” he will write. For Paul, death is no longer terminal. The resurrection has opened the way to new life. So certain is Paul of this new life that he can live in the present as if his future has already happened--because it has. God always finishes what he starts.

Theologians have long described Paul’s confidence in terms of “realized eschatology,” which is just an arcane way of saying that God's future can be experienced now. His good work is already a job well done. The substance of Christian hope is not on a future that might happen, but on God for whom the future has already happened. We neither worry nor fear despite the troubles we endure in the meantime; the certainty of our future enables us to endure our troubles. We hope in the God who always finishes what he starts.

This Christian hope for a certain future drastically differs from that hope we mean when we say, “I sure hope the Louisville Cardinals win the NCAA Basketball Title tomorrow night and save my March Madness Bracket.” That’s a future that may or may not happen--as Louisville came close to discovering last night against lowly Wichita State. Christian hope is not like my hoping that my University of North Carolina Tar Heels would have won the championship. That would have been delusional hope this season. The University of Michigan, however, has made it to the Championship for the first time in twenty years. 1993 was the year of their vaunted NBA-ready Fab Five team, which I mention since that was also the year they succumbed to my University of North Carolina in the championship game in a most memorable fashion. 
Given no hope to win, my Tar Heels took Michigan down to the wire, leading by two with eleven seconds to play. As basketball aficionados will recall, this was when Michigan’s Chris Webber, his team with the ball, called the time-out that the Wolverines did not possess. This resulted in a technical foul, two more points and the ball back to North Carolina. Game over. I couldn’t believe we’d won!

I recorded the game on a trusty videocassette, which for those under 50 is this rectangular box with black tape inside that people used before DVRs or YouTube. I watched the game again the next morning to be sure that I hadn’t been dreaming. I watched it any number of times after that, just for the happiness of it all, and each time I watched I would still feel anxiety and stress at the end of the game even though I knew the final outcome. The only difference was that now I neither worried nor feared no matter how anxious I felt when I watched because North Carolina won every time! That’s what Christian hope is like. In the end, no matter how troubled and anxious life gets, God always wins.

“This is my prayer,” Paul writes, “that your love may overflow more and more with sincerity and understanding to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness—a righteous character that comes from Jesus—to the praise and glory of God.” How can Paul pray that the Philippians be pure and blameless and righteous? Nobody lives that kind of life no matter how hard they try. But this is the point: Paul’s prayer is already answered. In Christ we are pure and blameless and righteous already. It’s just that our experience has yet to catch up with reality. Thus we need not worry or fear in the meantime, God who began a good work in us will bring it to completion. Even when we fail, the cross of Jesus stitches us back together so we can get back up and show what resurrection looks like. To be blameless and righteous is not to be flawless, but rather honest and humble and full of grace.

God is the one who began a good work among us and it is God who will bring it to completion. Christian hope is based on his work in us, not on our own ability or accomplishments. Christian hope fosters no illusions of human self-improvement. As opposed to those who’d look on the bright side and deny the effects of evil and sin, Christian hope understands that any real hope cannot found itself upon personal potential or wishful thinking. Christian hope views the effects of evil and sin for the tragedies they are, but then translates them into what they really are by the power of the cross: Suffering, rather than meaningless pain or just desserts, translates into meaningful redemption and reinforced character. Death, rather than a terrifying end, becomes the gateway to new life. Christian hopes stitches life’s tragedies into a beautiful tapestry of resurrection, pointing toward that day, when by grace, all things will be made new. Our confidence is in the Lord who always completes what he starts.

When we Harrells relocated to Minnesota almost three years ago, Dawn unpacked a box and found that unfinished African cat staring her in the face. Had it really been twenty years she’d been working on this thing? She determined again to finish in time for Christmas. Like Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, that lion started following us everywhere: on our road trip to Yellowstone and back, whenever we got on a plane, on a cabin vacation where Dawn so wanted to read a book. But rather than getting frustrated by the project this time, she grew increasingly excited as the lion’s face took shape and she could anticipate its joyous completion. Finally, on the last night of sewing, as the clock approached midnight with only the whiskers remaining, she realized too late that she didn’t have the right whisker color. Obeying her sister’s voice, she dealt with it and made the best of it, just like the Lord does with us, making us into the absolute best because it is God who does it.

It was beautiful. Dawn took the finished lion to Needlework Unlimited. The ladies who blocked the stretched fabric on which it was stitched and straightened the edges oo-ed and ah-ed. The framers oo-ed and ah-ed. Dawn posted her finished work on Facebook and Facebook oo-ed and ah-ed too. She sent it home and her dad was delighted. He said it was worth the twenty year wait, and like Aslan himself, as CS Lewis writes, it was “so bright and real and strong that everything else began at once to look pale and shadowy compared with him.” God will finish what he has started in us, because in Christ, he is already done. In time our experience will catch up with reality. We neither worry nor fear despite the troubles we endure in the meantime.

“I am confident of this,” Paul insists. And we can be confident too.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

To Believe is to See

Luke 24:1-35
 by Daniel Harrell
As most of you know I spent a good portion of this Lent with members of our congregation on a wonderful pilgrimage to Israel. I’ve been pulpit-bombing you with stories and pictures since, apropos to the Lenten season. So much of what we saw was where Lent and Easter happened. From the steep Palm Sunday road I showed you last week, and the ridge overlooking Jerusalem where Jesus wept, to the Temple Mount where Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to die. We trod the Via Dolorosa, on which Jesus carried his cross, which winds these days through an Old City shopping district. Each Station of the Cross offers a variety of Calvary-themed souvenirs, little crowns of thorns, rosaries and crucifixes, peddled mostly by Muslim vendors. The road ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which tradition marks as that place where Jesus was crucified, dead and buried. And from whence on this day he rose from the dead.
I’ve told you how competing branches of Christianity fight over who gets control of this premier religious site—sometimes with real punches. The Roman Catholic and Armenian Orthodox Churches each have their respective corners roped off, with the Ethiopian, Syriac and Coptic Orthodox Churches claiming various doorways and closets as their own territories. The literal infighting among Christian factions over the years in the church has led to a number of hospitalizations and incarcerations. So much for loving your neighbor. Thankfully a Muslim family owns the keys to the church’s main door or things might get really out of hand.
The Sepulcher proper, that is the empty tomb itself, is managed by the Greek Orthodox Church, which in turn has constructed an elaborate mausoleum out of what we presume would have been a humble hole. Hours long lines snake to the entrance, so we never got a chance to go inside. Just outside burns this single candle from which pilgrims from all the world come to light votive candles of their own. According to Greek Orthodoxy, this candlelight is Holy Fire that ignites in a most miraculous way. On the eve of every Orthodox Easter, this year on April 27, thousands of pilgrims will encircle the Sepulchre and sing hymns and beat drums in anticipation. A clean sweep will be made of the tomb to remove any trace of fire-making paraphernalia. When the hour of the miracle arrives, the masses will keep silence as an Orthodox high priest fearfully enters the tomb. He will kneel where Jesus’ head would have been and will intone a series of ancient prayers. At the amen, from within the core of the very stone on which Jesus lay, an indefinable and mysterious light rises up. 
According to a priest who witnessed it, the light “cannot be described in human terms. It rises out of the stone as mist may rise out of a lake. The light does not burn—I have never had my beard burnt in all the sixteen years I have received the Holy Fire. At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature, so that I am able to light my candles from it. When I thus have received the flame on my candles, I go out and give the fire to all people present in the Church.” 
I asked our secular Jewish guide what happens if one of the pilgrims trying to light their her candle accidentally snuffed out the holy fire. “It never happens!” our guide replied, a slight smirk betraying her own suspicions. “It is a miracle!” To which I say, hallelujah and praise the Lord! For anybody who died and rose from the dead, lighting and keeping lit a couple of candles a year is easy to do.
Protestants, being Protestant, have our own version of the empty tomb on the opposite side of the city. Located right beside an Arab bus station, our version dispenses with any iconography or liturgical folderol in favor of a simple and serene cemetery—with its own gift shop and souvenirs of course. At this empty tomb, there is no long line. You can step inside and lay where Jesus lay, and even take pictures like I did. As you can see Jesus is not here, which came as a huge relief. The gospels tell us how an immense stone covered the tomb that had to be rolled away. The gospels, however, don’t mention these iron bars guarding the grave—which must have made for an especially spectacular resurrection on Jesus’ part. 
A recent Rasmussen poll has 78% of Americans believing Jesus rose from the dead, which is an impressive statistic until you read that 73% of Americans also believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Another poll, from Ohio University a few years back, seems a bit more probable. It reported that among professing Christians in America only 46% believe that Jesus really rose from the dead. In other words, most professing Christians do not believe the thing that makes Christianity, Christianity. And this would be surprising if not for the gospels themselves. As we’ve heard read this morning, the reaction from the first responders to the resurrection ranged from perplexed and terrified to skeptical and curious, the last emotion from the disciples themselves. There’s not a confident Hallelujah or Praise the Lord heard anywhere.
Later that first Easter day, two disciples of Jesus’ walked to Emmaus, a seven mile jaunt from Jerusalem. Artistic renditions of the scene notwithstanding, these disciples were not out for a Sunday stroll. They were heading home. They had likely never expected to see home or their families again; Jesus had been clear that following him meant giving all that up. But Jesus also said that back when he was alive. He was dead now. Executed in fact. And they were done. As far as we can tell—despite all that the Scriptures and Jesus himself taught—these disciples did not believe Jesus really rose from the dead either. 
Sure, they’d seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, albeit temporarily. They’d seen him feed 5000 people, heal the blind and cure disease. They probably saw him walk on water and calm that fierce storm on the sea of Galilee. They’d heard him say how he’d get killed and buried like the other prophets. And no doubt they’d heard him say how after three days he’d rise up again. But crazy talk about his own rising from the grave likely got filed alongside all his other strange sayings, like about eating his body and drinking his blood, or about hating your father and mother, or about the last being first, the lost being found, the poor being rich or the least being greatest. None of that made any sense either. 
Luke says these disciples were discussing all this as they walked; but the verb he uses is stronger than that. They actually were having more of an argument. Given the high hopes they’d had for Jesus—from the hope he’d eliminate Roman tyranny to the hope he’d eliminate world poverty—to have it all end so tragically had to have made them angry as well as sad. Deeply disappointed too. Seems they’d wasted some of the best years of their lives.
It was probably at this point that Jesus popped in. He’d been making the rounds that morning. These disciples didn’t recognize him, and I understand that. If it’s one thing you ought to be able to count on it’s the dead staying dead. For all of the hope that it offers, resurrection can be very upsetting. It can mess with your head. A few weeks ago we held a funeral for a faithful gentleman who was a longtime member of our church. Though he and I had not been closely acquainted, I vaguely had placed his name with his face. And I was sad to hear he’d died. Then last Sunday he walked up and said hello. I thought I had the right name and face, but now I’m a little scared to ask.
The disciples didn’t recognize Jesus, but if you read the fine print, Luke writes that they were kept from recognizing him. Luke uses a voice theologians label “the divine passive,” which means that they were kept from recognizing Jesus by God. God was messing with their heads. Jesus asked what they were arguing about. One of them, named Cleopas, wondered aloud: “Are you the only stranger in town who does not know the things that have taken place in these days?” Luke displays his cleverness as a storyteller here. Cleopas was shocked that Jesus didn’t know about Jesus, when the reality is that Cleopas didn’t know about Jesus, even as he stood looking at Jesus. This is ironic. 
Jesus played along as Cleopas went on, “Have you not heard about Jesus of Nazareth? Powerful prophet? Mighty miracle worker? Prospective Redeemer? Total Rock Star? Crazy Talker? Condemned by the religious authorities? Sentenced by Pontius Pilate? Executed as a criminal? Some women reported his body missing this morning. Said some angels told them Jesus was alive. We sent our guys over to check it out (you know how women exaggerate). They were right about the body being gone. But nobody saw Jesus.”
Cleopas said “nobody saw Jesus” while looking straight at Jesus. What a chowderhead. “How foolish you are,” Jesus said, “and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” And then beginning with Moses, Jesus interpreted to them the things the Scriptures predicted. About how Moses anticipated another prophet like himself who would emerge to save God’s people from slavery again—not from Egypt, but from slavery to sin and death. About how Isaiah foretold a suffering Savior, one to be “pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities,” and “by whose wounds we are healed.” And how King David sang in the Psalms of a Savior whom God would never abandon to the grave nor let rot in the ground. A coming King who would draw all nations into his glorious Kingdom. All that and more, it was all in the Bible. Why didn’t they believe it?
This is a good question. Especially if you’ve ever read a Bible. It’s pretty unbelievable. Even if you ignore the prophets and just read what Jesus said: Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor and have treasure in heaven? Consider the lilies and don’t worry about your life? Pray for whatever you want and it’s yours? Love your enemies and forgive your persecutors and you will be blessed? Kill me dead and three days later I’ll rise? I don’t know.
I once had a church visitor ask how she could know the Bible is true. I reeled off reasons such as the Bible being the most reliable document in antiquity, the reams of corroborating archeological and historical evidence, the countless billions of people who have been totally transformed by its words, the continued thriving existence of the church itself; but these reasons only take you so far without faith. 
I had another inquirer ask whether the Bible condoned free-market capitalism; said he couldn’t believe in a God who was a socialist. He could have said the same about a lot of other things, from same-sex marriage to evolution, from slavery and suffering to pets in heaven. I asked this inquirer whether he believed Jesus rose from the dead. “No, not exactly,” he replied. “Well then why in the world would you care what the Bible says?” I wondered. In the end, the Bible is only true if the resurrection is true. As the apostle Paul famously put it, “if Christ was not raised then our faith is futile and we’re the biggest losers on the planet.”
We sometimes think believing would be easier if we had visible proof. If only Jesus would show himself to me, and walk me down the road, explain the Bible to me. I’d believe if I could see. But then you have these two who did see Jesus risen and they didn’t believe it. So what chance do I have? I don’t even know what Jesus looks like.
As the disciples neared Emmaus, Luke writes that Jesus “walked ahead as if he were going on.” That’s right, he faked it. He was messing with their heads again. He wasn’t going to chase them this far for nothing. But he wasn’t going to force himself on them either. He wanted an invitation and knew that by acting as if he was leaving the disciples would invite him inside. How did he know? (Well, because he’s Jesus, duh!) But also because cultural obligations of hospitality required them to invite inside any stranger met on the street at nightfall. The bad news was that they still considered Jesus a stranger; but the good news was that they invited him to join them for supper. Good news usually happens in the gospels over supper. Luke reports that as they sat down to eat, Jesus, shifting from guest to host, took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them—just like he’d done in their sight when he fed the 5000. Just like he’d done in their sight the other night when he told them this bread was his body.
And suddenly, Luke writes, again using the divine passive voice, their eyes were opened, and then, just as suddenly, Jesus vanished from their sight. Once they no longer saw him, they were able to recognize him.“Were not our hearts burning within us?” To believe is to see. Now everything changed. 
Which is another reason that resurrection can be so upsetting. To believe Jesus rose from the dead saddles you with all that implies: namely, that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, that He is King of kings, that he is your Master and your Lord. Resurrection upsets everything and turns your world upside down. The last being first, the lost being found, the poor being rich and the least being greatest all now make total sense. And once you believe, everything changes and you have to live your life differently because if you don’t, then you don’t really believe.
Had these two disciples stayed put after recognizing Jesus, Luke would have left them out of his story. What kind of gospel just has people sitting around? But there’s no way these disciples could have stayed put. As soon as they believed, they were out the door. Even though it was late at night, they took off and ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem, where they found the rest of the disciples, and became part of a handful of changed people who ended up changing the whole world.
How do you believe in such a way that not only changes your life but also changes your world? There’s only one way. God has to open your eyes. To which I say, hallelujah and praise the Lord! For anybody who died and rose from the dead, opening your eyes is unbelievably easy to do.