On that Thursday Evening, the upper room had become a sad place. There, words had been spoken about denial, betrayal, desertion, death, bloodshed and a body broken. It had been the prelude to the stunning events of that not-so-good Friday. But, sad as it was, on the Friday and Saturday and into Sunday these disciples had stayed in the city, cowering behind the closed doors of that upper room. They were in despair; shattered by their own behaviour. Pessimism and doubt marked those days. These men had become unbelievers. In fact, the four Gospels let us know that fear and doubt permeated the atmosphere. Hear the words recorded in those gospels.
Mark 16:8 -13
8 So the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and bewilderment had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
9 Now after Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.
12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.
If that isn’t sad I don’t know what is. But Luke continues to paint that same picture.
Luke 24: 9-11, 36-43.
9 and returning from the tomb, the women told what they had seen to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
36 While they were talking … Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
Equally sad is the earlier confession of the two on the Emmaus road, “we had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel!” (Luke 24:21) Hope had died that day!
John’s telling of the events adds new layers to the dirge as he focuses on the disciple Thomas.
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord….24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
Even Matthew, (28:16-17) who omits Jesus’ appearing in the Upper Room, taking us to the moments of the ascension 40 days later, writes, 16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
Even after they know that Jesus was alive, they remain depressed & think they have been fired. Hear John’s reporting: After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. (John 21:1-3)
These depressed men are convinced that they had forfeited their commission, and some have returned to their pre-Jesus job.
But Jesus refuses to leave them in despair. On the road to Emmaus, in the upper room, on the beach, at a meal table, on a mountain top, he will bring healing to their bruised hearts. The resurrected Jesus will restore to those broken men and women, not only their joy and faith, but also their commission to be his Sent-Ones. Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead, but so had the disciples and the entire Christian movement! They had also been raised from death, into new life and a renewed commission.
But his work on their behalf had only just begun. Just before his ascension, he asks them to remain in the city in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them.
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
These feeble men had not not been raised from the dead, and recommissioned, but now they had been empowered to be effective and courageous world-changers. That sad room became a place that had been redeemed! And that transformed upper room became the center of operations for the early church.
A word to us
Sometimes there are places in our own pasts that are haunted by memories of failure, disgrace, or hurt. Those place are like a dark cave where we find ourselves still enchained. We seem to have made our bed in hell.
Some of us came from toxic homes where abuse of all sorts took place. We can never go back there without shame and revulsion. Those places become “haunted houses” haunted by such terrible memories.
There are other places where we have committed foul deeds, done the unthinkable, and wounding others and ourselves in the process. The memory of such places brings with it renewed shame and unremitting remorse.
But there is hope even for such places.
- The little town of Bethlehem was such a place. (See the Christmas essay on Bethlehem on this site.) It was a town with a terrible reputation. But that place was redeemed by the birth of the Christ-child.
- Nazareth was such a place, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth” retorts Nathaniel. (John 1:46) But wait. We call the world’s most famous person, “Jesus of Nazareth!” That small town was forever made immortal because Jesus and his family lived there.
- On Golgotha Jesus was crucified on a cross. The cross was an execution gibbet. But now we sing, “I love that old cross”, and wear its image on our bodies and homes and churches. That foul place and that horrid instrument of torture were forever changed.
- The Upper Room also underwent a transformation. Death was overcome by resurrection. Doubts gave way to faith, sadness was displaced by joy.
And for us, because of what happened on that Easter morning, all of life can be redeemed, every hurt healed, and every death made a doorway to life that is more than abundant. Thanks be to God!