Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Sunday of the Upper Room

Before Jesus entered the glory of the heavenly sanctuary as our great High Priest, the cloud taking him "out of their sight", he told his followers not to leave Jerusalem but to "wait for the promise of the Father" (Acts 1:4). Then he reassured them, "You shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses... to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Clearly he said that because of the difficulty of living for him in our own strength, going forth to evangelise just with our human insights and abilities, or trying to establish his New Community, the Church merely as a sociological reality. "Power from on high" was what they needed for their mission. And it's what we desperately need, too.

So, leaving Mount Olivet they returned to Jerusalem, to the upper room. We read that there were "about 120" of them, not just the Apostles. This was the nucleus of the first Church. They waited "with Mary" for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon them. "With one accord" they "devoted themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14).

Our Lady's presence with the praying Church is emphasised in the iconography of the East as well as in the art of the West. What was she doing there? I can't prove this, of course, but to me it seems very likely that she was helping the others prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit. We know that she "kept" all the things that had happened to her, "pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19, 51).

Can't you imagine Mary calming the others by sharing her testimony (maybe even in the words of the Magnificat - Luke 1:46-55)?

Can't you hear her telling the others that their relationship with her Son could be like her relationship with him if they will only "hear the Word of God and do it" (Luke 8:21 & Luke 11:28).

Is it unreasonable to think of her nurturing in them the openness to the Lord in prayer so evident in her all those years before when she had said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38)?

And then, don't you think she would have reminded them that as the promise made to her by the angel, "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you," had been fulfilled (Luke 1:35), so the "promise of the Father" to them will likewise be fulfilled?

I always think of the Sunday between Ascension day and Pentecost as THE SUNDAY OF THE UPPER ROOM. I'm sure that Mary, the Mother of all her Son's people, prays with us and for us today as we seek to be renewed and empowered by that same Holy Spirit of love.

It was the ancient practice of the Church to have a proper "Vigil" of Pentecost. Perhaps Christian congregations of all traditions could do with an all-night prayer meeting culminating in the Mass of Pentecost. Wouldn't that be wonderful!

Whatever we do, let's pray with Our Lady for the renewal of the Church, and for Christian unity. You see, Pentecost is not just about the empowerment of the Church; it is also about the unity that the Holy Spirit brings about. In fact, my heart's desire in praying for Christian unity has always been for the Church of Jesus to be fully catholic, evangelical, and pentecostal all at once, while again breathing deeply with both eastern and western lungs as she loves a broken and wounded world back to God. How dynamic would that be! Well, I believe that's what God wants for his Church as well, not just for his sake or for our sakes, but so that a hurting world will believe.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love.


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