When they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying … All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer.” (Acts 1:13-14)
Last Sunday, Jesus introduced us to the third person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit, the counsellor, the teacher, the spirit of truth, and the indwelling presence of God in the believer. During the week, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension. Jesus was with his disciples and they asked: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8).
The disciples took the words of Jesus seriously. Immediately after the Ascension, as our first reading today narrates, the disciples gathered themselves in the Upper Room where they devoted themselves to prayer in anticipation of the coming of the Holy Spirit.
What was so special about this upper room? Where can we find our own Upper Room today? What lessons do we learn from life in the Upper Room? These are some questions that will guide our reflection today.
*1. The Upper Room is a Symbol of the Holy Eucharist*
The first time we hear a mention of the term “upper room” in the Bible is when Jesus instructed his disciples saying: “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples’ and he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” (Mark 14:13-16; Luke 22:11-14).
It was in this large upper room that Holy Mass was celebrated for the first time. Jesus gave His disciples His body and blood in the form of bread and wine adding: “Do this in memory of me.” After witnessing the Ascension, the apostles must have felt a vacuum in their hearts and as they missed Jesus, they returned to the Upper Room to “do this in memory of me” – to celebrate the Holy Eucharist.
Dear friends, every time we celebrate the Mass, we join Jesus and His disciples in the Upper Room; the place where God comes to meet ordinary humans. It is important to mention that it was in this same Upper Room that the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost. When next you are present at mass, know that you are in the Upper Room; the most powerful room on earth.
*2. Take Refuge in the Upper Room When Afraid or in Trouble*
Another reason the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room was fear. John gives us a hint of this when he said: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:19).
There is every possibility that Jesus appeared to them in this same upper room; a place where they sought refuge in a time of trouble. In today’s second reading, St. Peter acknowledges the fact that being Christians does not make us immune from suffering. If suffering comes to us just because of Christ (not because we did anything wrong), then we should rejoice and not be ashamed of God.
At a time like this, we cannot deny the fact that Christianity is under persecution in this country. A particular state in the North has already passed a law regulating religious worship. Not long ago, we heard of the bill to control Christian education. Dear friends, this is the time for us all to retreat into the upper room, the time for us to hide our heads in prayer more than ever before.
*3. The Upper Room is a Place of Prayer*
Our Gospel passage today contains a prayer Jesus addressed to God towards the end of His public ministry. In teaching his disciples to pray, Jesus did not just give them words, he also taught by example. On several occasions, Jesus spent whole nights at times in prayer and he always encouraged His followers to pray constantly. As we read in today’s first reading, the apostles devoted themselves to prayer in the upper room.
We would not be out of place to say that what made this room an upper room is the fact that it was dedicated to prayer. Prayer unlike other human activities uplifts us, takes us beyond the realm of the flesh and raises us into the presence of God. The Apostles did not leave the upper room; they prayed all day and all night like Jesus who for forty days and forty nights remained in the wilderness praying and fasting in preparation for His public ministry.
For the Apostles, the upper room became a place of preparation for ministry; a place of prayer; a place they could be without worldly distractions; a place of profound communion with God. When the Holy Spirit eventually came on Pentecost Day, the upper room became the womb of the Church; its place of birth. Indeed, the upper room is a place of great miracles.
In Acts 9, we read the story of Tabitha (or Dorcas), a woman full of good works and acts of charity. She fell sick and died and the Christian community decided to wash her corpse and place it in an upper room. Then they sent for Peter who was in nearby Lydda to come and when he came, he went to the upper room where he knelt and prayed then turning to the body, he said: “Tabitha rise.” The dead woman opened her eyes and sat up. (Acts 9:36-40).
*4. Mary was Present in the Upper Room*
Our first reading today mentions the names of those who gathered at the Upper Room but one name that we must not simply gloss over is Mary, the Mother of Jesus. It was at the Upper Room that the disciples of Jesus began to give Mary her pride of place as Mother of the Church. As we gather at the Upper Room to pray, let us endeavour to pray our Rosary. Let us ask Mary who was so honoured by God to be His Mother to intercede for us.
Dear friends, where is your upper room? Have you dedicated a corner in your home or an entire room for prayer? When last did you visit that place? Have you been taking care of your upper room or has it just become a sort of decoration in your home? It is just something to show people that you are Christian? Do you walk into your upper room with faith trusting that God is present there?
Perhaps, you do not even have an upper room. Why not create one today? If you consider prayer important, then just as you have a room in your house dedicated to cooking (the kitchen), you should at least dedicate a space for prayer, call it your upper room. Make use of your upper room. Spend more time in your upper room. Prayer is the master key!
Let us pray: Come O Holy Spirit fill our hearts, and enkindle in us your Sacred Fire. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Study: Acts 1:12-14, Ps. 27:1,4,7-8, 1 Peter 4:13-16, John 17:1-11)*
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu