The Upper Room

Mark 14:12-16, / Luke 22:7-13 / Matthew 26:17-19

There are places that have become so meaningful, that to mention the place is to flood the mind with memories that move us to the very depths of our lives.  That place may be a small cafe where two people knew for the first time that they loved each other.  That cafe is forever changed in memory.  For others it may be a sanctuary where God became real in our experience, and that place picks up a greater significance than any other place in the world.

An upper room in the city of Jerusalem became such a place.  In that city there were many homes that had two stories and would have had an upper room.  These houses were like two boxes piled on top of each other. The larger box was at ground level, with another usually smaller box like room built on top, to be reached by stairs built on to the outside of the house.   But one day in history a new significance was given to one such room, and for the rest of history, all someone has had to say is “The Upper Room” and Christian imagination floods with memories.

It was a Thursday night in Jerusalem.  Jesus needed a place just for the evening so he could share a meal with a few friends.  They were in that room only for a few hours, but by the time that evening was over, it would become one of the most memory filled pieces of real estate that the world could have possessed.

It was the evening of the Passover festival.  It was family time, when Jewish families gathered for the most important meal of the year.  They gathered to remember that earthshaking event of the Exodus, when God had delivered Israel from Egyptian enslavement.

But Jesus is away from his family home in the North.  But he has another family, composed of twelve men.  They are his best friends.  He says to these men on that night, “With desire have I anticipated eating this Passover with you.”  It is to be a time of sharing in rich memories and enriching conversation with close friends.  What a wonderful time away from the thronging crowd.

But as this small group of men move through the evening meal, that room will witness strange events and hear words that strike strangely on our senses.

  • For there will be words about the betrayal of friendship that will add tension and a deep sadness to that gathering.
  • There will be words about the denial and desertion of his followers.
  • There will be that embarrassing event of their leader stripping off his outer clothes, then kneeling to wash their feet, because they had refused to do it.
  • In that upper room Jesus will celebrate that first ever communion service.

The upper room was the place where a kaleidoscope of events intermingled.  During the season of lent I want us to visit and revisit that upper room, and spend some time with Jesus and the twelve on this crucial night that precedes the crucifixion.  If we do that, I think we will be ready to enter the sanctuary on Easter Sunday morning with our hearts prepared to worship God well.

But for the moment, let us look at the events earlier in that day that led to the upper room.

The Preparations

As that Thursday began, there were a lot of preparations to make.   The disciples knew that, and raised the question that morning, “Where do you want us to prepare for the Passover meal?”  In response Jesus told Peter and John to go and prepare for the Passover meal.  What would that mean?

That would involve making sure that no leaven was present in the room. No yeast or anything that would ferment.  Leaven was the ancient symbol for sin.  To prepare well, they were to remove all traces of it from the premises.

To prepare also meant that they would need to purchase and then have a lamb sacrificed at the temple.  Peter and John would bring the lamb to the altar in the temple compound, lay their hands on its head, and the priest would slay the innocent creature.  After participating in that very dramatic event, they would then arrange to have it roasted for the evening meal.

Besides getting the lamb, there were other supplies to get, if they were to be prepared for Passover.

  • They had to get Matzah – unleavened bread.
  • They had to get wine – enough for 4 cups for each person.
  • They had to get some bitter herbs – to remind them of the bitterness of slavery.
  • They had to provide a bowl of salt water – to remind them of their tears, and the saltiness of the Red Sea
  • Then some Haroshet, a dish made with crushed apples, dates, nuts, pomegranate, to remind them of the clay with which they had made bricks in the time of their enslavement in Egypt.

The two disciples had a lot of work to do to get ready for this momentous evening. To really get ready, they had to prepare the room too.  For the seating arrangement for the Passover meal was unlike other meals.  At Passover they reclined at the table.  The tables would be arranged in a U shape, with cushions on the outside of the table to recline on, each person resting on the left side, leaving their right hand free for eating.  The inner area of the U-shaped table was used for serving the food.

So the disciples are commissioned to prepare for the grand event.  But the question arises, where were they to find a room?  The city was already crowded by the gathering pilgrims.  Every place would have been taken.   Jesus said, “Look for a man with a jar of water on his head.  Follow him.  Then let the owner of that house know that “The Teacher” will need the room, after all.”

How did Jesus know about the available room?  How did he know about the young man with a water pot on his head?

Some have said it was a miracle of insight.  He could see in his mind’s eye, a large furnished room and a man with a pot on his head that was going there, at just the moment the disciples would be in the vicinity.

Some of us think it was the result of good planning and preparation.  Jesus may have made earlier arrangements with the owner.  The room may have been reserved some time earlier.  But it may have been questionable whether Jesus would be able to use it.  It was a dangerous time.  There were those who were seeking his life.    It was one of the reasons he retreated to the small village of Bethany each night.  But Jesus and the owner of the house had made tentative plans, and had a pre-arranged signal.   She would send a young man carrying a pot of water on his head to the town center.  They should follow him to the house.  When they got to the house there was a password they were to use. “The teacher says ‘My time is at hand.  Where is the guest room…?”

By the way, a man carrying a water-jar on his head is an unusual sight.  That was always perceived as a woman’s task. Some have suggested that the young man is Mark, the one who later wrote the Gospel that bears his name. We know the home belonged to his mother. This young man is probably willing to enter into the adventure and do the odd thing for the day.  Others suggest that he might also be the same young man who fled from the garden of Gethsemane later that night, leaving his clothes behind him.

Making Preparations for Good Friday & Easter

Jesus had made preparations ahead of time for this important event. The disciples spend that day making preparations for the event.  It is interesting to note that in the 6 verses we read, four times it speaks of “making preparations”.   I think it is a good word for us too.

In a few weeks we will approach the Easter weekend.   During that weekend we will be reminded of the death of Christ on a cross on Good Friday.  Then on Easter Sunday morning we shall celebrate that marvelous day of resurrection.   The high moments in the Church’s life.

Centuries ago, the church, led by the Holy Spirit, made a recommendation to us.  “They worship best, who prepare well.”  The ancient church suggested that if we take seriously the season of Lent, taking the forty days to think about our relationship with God, with the church, with our families, with the world, and with ourselves, when we get to Easter Sunday we will have made the right preparations for the worship of God and the renewal of faith.

How do we use the six weeks of the Lenten Sesaon to prepare? 

Some of us give up something during this season.  It is a way of refusing to pamper ourselves as much as we do.  It helps us de-prioritize our own pleasure, and to make spiritual health a higher priority.  Giving something up that gives us pleasure helps to turn us away from consumerism and materialism, and weakens the hold of gluttony and avarice in our lives.  Imposing a discipline on our lives like this, exercises our souls, like aerobics exercises our bodies.  If we were to do our exercises for 40 days, we might find ourselves running the race of life much better.

As we approach the Spring of the year, farmers will be thinking about preparing the soil for planting the new seed for a new harvest.  As we prepare our hearts over the next forty days, we will be giving the seed that God wants to plant a much better chance of germinating.

There are some who say “I get nothing out of the services of worship.”  That is most often said by those who put nothing into them.  If we fail to prepare, we will probably fail to receive anything of value.

Why not try this grant experiment of faith over the next 6 weeks?  Give some time each day to make some preparation, and then arrive for worship on that great Easter day, and see what a difference preparation makes.