Friday, December 10, 2010

The Upper Room, surrounded by everyone we love, no dividing lines

In the last few days, the lectionary Daily Office readings have brought us to the "Upper Room" where so much takes place in the story of Jesus and his followers.

The reading from Thursday, Luke 22:1-13, has Jesus telling his followers to meet him in the room and make preparations for their Passover meal.

Today Luke 22:14-30 is the story of that last meal -- the "Last Supper" -- with Jesus telling his followers to remember him in the bread and wine every time they gather.

In my own morning meditation, I've been imagining myself in the room. I can see the stone walls, and feel the floor beneath me where I sit.

I am surrounded by friends and family, and especially people I know who are hurting and in need of healing, or reassurance, or a dose of love and hope. I name them, and I can see their faces sitting there with me in the Upper Room. Some are with me still living in this world, others are in the next. There is no dividing line between the living and the dead in my mediation. All are alive with me in that room.

I can imagine Jesus sitting with us -- all of us -- and telling us over and over, quietly, that we are loved and healed and whole and connected with each other and with him. He doesn't say much else in my meditation. That really is enough. More than enough.

I remember that every time we gather for our Holy Eucharist, we are gathering again in the Upper Room, the place of the Last Supper, and when we do, we gather with everyone we love, in this life and in the next. That really is enough. More than enough.

My meditation made me curious about the other biblical stories of the Upper Room, and specifically the versions by the writer of the Gospel of Luke who was a follower of the apostle Paul. The writer of Luke makes no claim of being there, but gathered these stories from many sources and wrote them down.

As Luke's story unfolds after the crucifixion, Jesus comes back and is seen again by his followers in many places but especially in that Upper Room. In Luke 24:36-43, the followers have gathered in fear, and when Jesus comes into the room "they are startled and terrified."

Then he asks them for something to eat. Always there seems to be a meal.

Maybe it was a big room. I hope so, because there are a lot of people I want with me in this room. Acts 1:12-15 (written by the author of Luke) reports that 120 followers are gathered in and around this room, including many women and "Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers." Perhaps the writer of Luke-Acts was a woman, and I like to think that she got some of these stories from Mary herself.

The story gets a bit convoluted in Acts, with backtracking about Judas and the election of someone to take his place. It picks up again at Acts 2:1-12 with Pentecost, with the followers in the Upper Room being filled with the Holy Spirit and understanding each other perfectly no matter what language they speak in. The bickering ends, if only for a few moments.

The bickering begins again when they leave the Upper Room.

Luke 24:44-53 has a less dramatic but no less a profound a version of these events in the Upper Room after the crucifixion. Jesus comes to his followers in the room and shares a meal with them (a meal again!), and teaches them about the deeper meaning of Scripture. He tells them he has come not just to suffer and rise from the dead but to show that "repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations."

That his final command to his followers -- to proclaim repentance and forgiveness. That's it.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, the final command has more to do with recruiting people into joining the new religion. In Matthew 28:19-20, the final command is called the "great commission" to go out and baptize people and "obey everything I have commanded you."

But in Luke, the command is to tell people -- all people -- that they are forgiven and they can turn back to God. Forgiveness and repentance are central. The word "repentance" means to "turn around" to see the God who is always standing there waiting for us. It is a declaration that we can always be reconnected with God, that no matter how low we feel or what has befallen us, or how badly we have messed up. God's forgiveness and love are unending. Not even death can separate us from the love of God. There are no dividing lines here. This is about conversion to a new way of seeing and experiencing God, not recruiting.

I wonder why we don't call this the "great commission" as well?

This final command in Luke, to proclaim forgiveness and repentance, is a bookend with the Song of Zechariah which appears at the beginning of Luke when Jesus is still in the womb of his mother. The song is a part of the Advent-Christmas saga of Luke. Coming in Luke 1:68-79, Zechariah, declares the mission of Jesus's first follower, his son John the Baptist. The song underscores our mission as well:
"For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace."
I pray this Advent season, we will all experience forgiveness, and follow the One who guides us in the way of peace.

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