The Oval Office, Buckingham Palace? … Would you believe a simple “upper room” in Jerusalem!
Why? Because in that room on the day we call Pentecost, the most powerful movement in history was launched.
Today we tend to call that movement the Roman Catholic Church. But the facts at one level don’t do justice to what was unleashed that day.
Today there are well over one billion people, all under one Pope. We forget that the Catholic Church includes 23 other cultural expressions or “Rites” united under the Pope. We refer to them most often as Eastern Rites Churches. That a pretty crowded room!
Why do we think of Pentecost as the day when this movement was launched?
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,*which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues* as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. (Acts 2)
Those who listened to them were astounded! In amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?”
The four Gospels are a kind of prequel about the initial recruitment and training period that led up to the formal launch of this movement. They tell the story of how people were invited to join the movement and how a select few serious, even if very unlikely and ordinary folks, were formed to be leaders.
What is even more startling is who the Spirit chose to settle upon! The first followers of this Jesus who gathered in that room were confused, disheartened, and fearful – hardly a group you would expect could start a world-wide movement. And they themselves clearly never saw coming what would happen to them!
With the power of the Holy Spirit, they boldly began to speak about what they seen, and been touched by. What is more people of different languages and cultures could understand their words!
The Acts of the Apostles tell us how the first followers “grew in wisdom, age, and grace.” It was too much to comprehend all at once! At first all they were aware of and understood was that they were part of “God’s story.” And the more they understood, the more they began to act as “God’s storytellers.” (Pope Francis’ beautiful image in his letter for the 54 World Day of Communications.)
They thought they understood, but slowly began to realize they had to let go of many of misconceptions and even cherished religious practices. They began to realize how radical were the implications of this transformation. They began to live God’s story. History tells us how astounded their neighbors were. “See these Christians. They love one another!” They came to understand that Jesus was serious when he asked them to wash one another’s feet!
We are called to continue telling that story with the way we live our lives in imitation of Christ. They became foot washing disciples or servants of the servants.
That room where is started still exists today
Maybe not the actual physical space! They began to understand what Jesus meant when he said “Where two or three are gathered together there am I in the midst of them!”
“They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus. (Acts 1:14)”
The pattern was set! They began to realize how important it was to break bread together. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” Act 2:42
That pattern continues to this day… and in this very place. Are we not today 2 or 3 gathered in his name. We are gathered here in this “upper room” waiting for unexpected things happen and ready to accept when they are not what we expected.
An upper room today is a gathering of praying Christians who encounter the manifest presence of Christ and his Spirit. Anywhere! Any size! Any time! Anyone! Today’s upper room comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes.
There is another more important upper room
The upper room of our heart is the upper room of our inner world from which springs all our actions. Inside each of us is an “upper room” where we experience the living presence of God. Wherever we are, whenever we take the time to find and speak and listen to God, we can experience his life-giving, sacramental, and transformative presence.
Our challenge today
The liturgy for Memorial Day says it so well!
“(Jesus) spoke a message of peace and taught us to live as brothers. His message took form in the vision of our fathers as he fashioned a nation where all might live as one. This message lives on in our midst as a task for us today and promise for tomorrow.
We thank you, Father, for your blessings in the past and for all that, with your help, we must yet achieve.” (Preface)