The scripture this Sunday takes us to what has been called “the most important room in all of Christendom” — the Upper Room.
If you’ve been to the Holy Land, chances are your tour took you there, to the Old City of Jerusalem, just steps from where tradition tells us King David is buried. The site of the Upper Room has been revered by Christians since the fourth century, and for good reason.
It is sometimes known as “The Cenacle,” from the Latin cenaculum, meaning “dining room.”
But this isn’t just any dining room. To quote a song from “Hamilton,” this is the “room where it happened.”
This is where Christ shared The Last Supper. It is where he instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood on the night before he died. It is where he washed the feet of his apostles, where he offered the priestly prayer that we heard a moment ago in John’s Gospel. Here is where Jesus first appeared after the Resurrection, where he showed his wounds to Thomas, where the disciples went to pray after the Ascension — and, of course, where the Holy Spirit fell in tongues of fire on Pentecost.
The Upper Room is central to so much of the story of Christianity. But it is, most significantly right now, not just “the room where it happened,” but the room that was, for the first days of the Church, the very home of the Church.
A place of prayer. Of anticipation. Of wondering. Of watching. Of waiting.
It should feel familiar to all of us right now. A lot of us have been forced by circumstances to stay at home. And home is now our office, our classroom, our gym, and — at moments like this — our church.
Unexpectedly, we find ourselves now linked to the apostles, each of us in our own Upper Room.
Friday, Peggy Noonan wrote in The Wall Street Journal about the world we have been living in, and the times we are facing. She could also have been writing about the world the apostles were facing in the days after the Ascension:
“People have suffered,” she wrote. “They’ve been afraid. The ground on which they stand has shifted. Many have been reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck. They’ve been thinking about their religious faith or lack of it, about their relationships.”
She went on: “We’ve rethought not only what is ‘essential’ but who is important…Something big inside us shifted.”
Like the apostles, we feel a sense of life interrupted. We wonder, like they did, what happens next. Just as the apostles “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer,” this is a time for us to pray, to reflect, to seek God’s grace and direction in our lives.
It is worth asking ourselves, as our period of lockdown comes to an end, as we spend less time in isolation: what has changed? What inside us has shifted?
A deacon I know put it this way, “Decades from now, what will you tell your grandchildren when they ask, ‘What did you do when the pandemic hit? Will you tell them, ‘I opened my heart and drew closer to God? I fed the hungry. I loved my neighbor.’”
Will you tell them how it changed your priorities and made you rethink what really mattered?
What will we bring from our Upper Rooms out into the world?
In 2014, Pope Francis visited the Holy Land and was granted permission by the Jewish authorities to do something they seldom allow. He was given the opportunity to celebrate Mass in the Upper Room.
In his homily, the pope concluded with this beautiful insight, which speaks to us in a particular way this Sunday, at this moment in time.
“How much love and goodness has flowed from the Upper Room!,” he said. “How much charity has gone forth from here, like a river from its source, beginning as a stream and then expanding and becoming a great torrent. All the saints drew from this source; and hence the great river of the Church’s holiness continues to flow, from the heart of Christ, from the Eucharist and from the Holy Spirit. The Upper Room reminds us of the birth of the new family, the Church. Christian families belong to this great family, and in it they find the light and strength to press on and be renewed, amid the challenges and difficulties of life. These horizons are opened up by the Upper Room, the horizons of the Risen Lord and his Church.”
May we, like the apostles, face these horizons with joyful hope, looking forward to that day when we can gather again in this church, sharing the Eucharist, raising our voices in prayer — grateful, above all, for everything that began in the Upper Room.