When they entered the city
they went to the upper room where they were staying,
Peter and John and James and Andrew,
Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew,
James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot,
and Judas son of James.
All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer,
together with some women,
and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
ACTS 1:12-14 (First Reading for the 7th Sunday of Easter)
The upper room, or the cenacle (latin for Dining Room), as some call it, has always fascinated me. The disciples initially lock themselves in out of fear of being killed for being followers of Jesus. I suppose that makes sense. They return there for so many big scenes: The Last Supper, Doubting Thomas (why did he leave the upper room? Designated food run? Bravery? We don’t know), the Pentecost story (coming to a homily near you soon), and today’s first reading where they return after the Ascension.
Imagine if you will, this upper room, the scene of so much joy and unbelievable memories…each return must bring with it the most jolting remembrances. Even more, think about how absurd it is to lock yourself in a dining room!
Our churches are precisely, the upper room of today. We re-create the scene of the Last Supper and Christ is present in the Eucharist. These are special places that we respectfully honor and that become our spiritual homes.
It’s why we need to treat them reverently as well and make sure they don’t become places of tragedy. Ergo, we’ve locked them down for a time.
Nothing can totally replace them. Nobody’s suggesting that we do. But the purpose of these places is not to merely come to them to experience Christ’s presence. The purpose of these places is to come to them and to be changed. To become what it is that we receive. To go beyond the doors of these churches and to bring Christ to others, is, by definition, the goal.
And here we are.
As Michael Jordan’s Bulls would say before they took the court:
Indeed, this is game time…but it’s no game. It’s a whole lot more. This is when we either share Christ with the world as best we can! Or do we choose to merely horde him for ourselves? Do we bring Christ to others or we tell others that they must come to our building?
The old song “And they’ll know we are Christians, by our love, by our love” rings true for me these days. How might we express that well in these days? That, indeed, is up to us.
In Church History class (one of my favorites during my Deacon formation) it was clearly astounding to see how much St. Paul’s contributions were single-handedly responsible for the spread of Christianity. He took to the road and didn’t sit still. Evangelization, by definition, doesn’t stand still. Eventually, the disciples had to leave that upper room. And St. Paul took things far beyond the upper room.
How does this look today? I think very clearly right now, it’s all about sharing whatever we can with as many as we can. And it’s working. One colleague quipped: “I’m seeing more people interact with us at weekday Mass online and on Sunday than we ever did before the virus.”
I think that’s long overdue.
The evangelization lesson to learn during this time is that God cannot be contained with the four walls of a building. When the doors are locked, despite out fear, Jesus comes and stands in our midst and says “Peace be with you.”
Where is your upper room in your home? In your heart? Where has Jesus broken through your fear throughout this time and allowed you to in turn be changed?
It takes a lot to be able to take Jesus creatively to others when all hope seems lost. How far are we willing to go?
The word of the Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Missouri, Deon K. Johnson have made the rounds lately. They bear repeating:
“The work of the church is essential.
The work of caring for the lonely, the marginalized, and the oppressed is essential.
The work of speaking truth to power and seeking justice is essential.
The work of being a loving, liberating, and life giving presence in the world is essential.
The work of welcoming the stranger, the refugee and the undocumented is essential.
The work of reconciliation and healing and caring is essential.
The church does not need to “open” because the church never “closed”. We who make up the Body of Christ, the church, love God and our neighbors and ourselves so much that we will stay away from our buildings until it is safe. We are the church.”
I’ll be thinking of some new ways to bring Christ to you in these days of seclusion. And I welcome your ideas. May we all be Christ for others and may we not let access to a building limit our powers of evangelization.