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A Room Filled with Hope/Observance of the Lord’s Supper

June 4, 2006

Luke 22:10-16; Acts 2:1-4

What do you think of when you enter this sanctuary? Some of you who come into this room may have a vivid memory of a wedding. You remember the time of a bride and groom, maybe you and your spouse, exchanging vows right here in this place. It may be that you think of a baby dedication or a graduate recognition service when you enter this room. For some, a funeral comes to mind. You came here to worship during a time of bereavement. Maybe you made the decision to accept Christ as your Savior and were baptized in this room. This sanctuary is a special place.

Such a room was important for Jesus but more so for his disciples. The gospel of Luke tells us about how that special room was prepared. Peter and John were sent to the home of John Mark. There, they found an upper room where they could have the Passover meal together. The disciples gathered in fear in that same room, following the crucifixion of Jesus. It was into that room that the Lord Jesus came on Easter morning as the resurrected Christ, allowing the disciples to experience the truth of his victory over death for the first time. Fifty days after that Passover meal, the disciples again gathered in that room and received the incredible gift of God’s Spirit.

On my first trip to the Holy Land, a tour guide took our group to a place identified as the Upper Room. Other members of the group could hardly have cared less about the Upper Room because everyone else – except for my son Kris and me – was Jewish. We were the only Christians. It was quite a stirring place; but as a group of Korean Christians sang hymns, I noticed the architecture. I said to the tour guide, “I don’t believe this is the Upper Room. The architecture here looks to me like Crusader architecture. Where is the Upper Room?” The tour guide answered, “Go into the Old City and find St. Mark’s Church. Ask to see the Upper Room there. St. Mark’s is a Syrian Orthodox church, and the Israeli tour department will not allow us to take tourists there.”

That afternoon when Kris and I had some time, we made our way through the labyrinth of narrow streets until we came to that church. Like many of the churches in the Holy Land, it was established when the first Christian emperor, Constantine, sent his mother to identify holy sites. She identified the home of John Mark, the writer of the gospel of Mark, as the place of the Last Supper and the location where the disciples gathered on Pentecost. John Mark was just a young man when Jesus had the Passover meal, but he followed the disciples and Jesus out to the Garden of Gethsemane. It was in his home that those disciples found refuge.

I asked the young Syrian Orthodox priest at St. Mark’s if we might see the Upper Room. Of course, he wanted us to see so much else first. When I reminded him of our desire, he explained that the Upper Room would be below ground. I understood that layers of history pile on top of each other and that you would have to dig to see a first century building. Somewhat diplomatically, he told me of a very heavy man, sitting on the back row of the church years ago. When he stood up, his feet went through the floor. The priest continued to explain how they excavated. Discovered beneath the floor of the church was a rather large room containing a cistern that dated to the first century.

After the priest’s account, he led us down narrow stairs at the back of the sanctuary into a room lined with fieldstone from the surrounding hills of Judea. The room’s floor had been paved out of those same fieldstones. I cannot be sure whether that is, in fact, the original Upper Room, but it is more likely the Upper Room than any other place. When I entered that room, I had a special sense of God’s presence. About two years later, I took another trip to the Holy Land, this time with a number of Morningside members. We returned to the church and asked to go back to that room. There we had a time of devotion and sang songs.

When Jesus gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room on the night of the Passover, the followers were experiencing various emotions. Knowing the dangers ahead, realizing their master was about to die, and talking of swords filled them with fear and grief. The rumor of betrayal filled the room, as did competitiveness. Disciples were taking exception to the fact that James and John were asking for places of honor. We also see boasting in the room as Simon Peter bragged that he would never deny the Lord.

Three days later, after Jesus’ death on the cross, those disciples, again deeply grieving and fearful, returned to that room. It was then when Jesus came ghost-like through the door. Knowing they were still afraid, he said to them, “Fear not.” Then as if to confirm that he really was alive, that he had conquered death, he ate a meal of fish. They no doubt met in the room often during the next forty days.

Then the day came when Jesus took them to the Mount of Olives. Before his disappearance, he told the disciples to return to Jerusalem and wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. During their ten-day wait, surely someone must have asked, “How long do we have to wait?” Maybe someone else asked, “What are we waiting for exactly?” On the Day of Pentecost, traditionally believed to come fifty days after the Passover, the disciples were in the Upper Room once again, this time feasting in celebration of the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. With strong winds and mysterious flames of fire, the Holy Spirit came upon them. The first manifestation was that people who spoke other languages – such as Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Parthian, and Persian – could understand what these men with heavy Galilean accents were saying in their native Aramaic. The disciples, once afraid, became encouraged and hopeful that the resurrected Christ had done what he had promised – sent this power beyond the church, this power from God, in the form of this invisible Spirit.

I have had the privilege of preaching and having communion in a number of places. I have preached at Memorial Church at Harvard Square on Maundy Thursday and celebrated the Lord’s Supper with scholars and academicians. I have had communion with a group of tourists at Westminster Abbey. Kris and I had communion at St. Martin’s of the Field at Trafalgar Square with the homeless people of London. I have served communion in an institution for juvenile delinquents and in a state mental hospital. Something about this Supper transforms a room where people have gathered to worship. Fear, anxiety, despair, even anger and apathy tend to subside; and hope takes control. Jesus gave us this Supper as a way to remember his life, his death, his resurrection, and his present Spirit.

Taking this Supper transforms our lives. It fills us with hope. This room, filled with the Spirit of God, becomes a room filled with hope. When I served the Lord’s Supper to juvenile delinquents and mental patients, we did so by intinction. The person standing before me came forward to receive communion when I called his or her name. I took the bread and said, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you.” Then I dipped the bread in the cup and said, “This is the blood of Jesus, shed for you. Eat this as often as you eat it, in remembrance of him.” When I looked into the eyes of street-hardened kids, angry and sullen juvenile delinquents, I could see that spark of hope for a moment. When I looked into the eyes of a mental patient who spoke in tongues no one could understand and offered them that bread dipped in the cup, I could see a glimmer of recognition and a glimmer of hope. It is not so different here at Morningside.

Let me remind you that this is not our table. This is not a Baptist table. This is the Lord’s table. The Lord gave us these elements so that we could remember the one thing that fills our broken lives with the hope of eternal life – Jesus’ life, his sacrificial death, his pardon for our sins, and his victory over death through the resurrection. His present of the Spirit fulfills the promise, “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.” We come to this table to experience the presence of the living Christ and to find hope.

Let us take this Lord’s Supper together. The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread. He blessed it and broke it, saying, “This is my body, broken for you.” Let us have a prayer of blessing for the bread.

Our Father, in the quietness of this hour, we realize we are indeed not in the Upper Room. We are in a room set aside for this very purpose – to worship You and to thank You. As we partake of this bread, help us to remember the hope that the Lord Jesus has given us in so many ways. Thank you. In his name, we pray. Amen.

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me;

Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me.

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.

Jesus said, “This bread is my body, broken for you.” Eat it as often as you eat it in remembrance of him. Eat ye all of it.

We are going to have a prayer of blessing now for the cup.

Most gracious heavenly Father, we are grateful that we can come together as a part of Your family, the family of God. We remember what was done for us on Calvary. Jesus’ body was broken and his blood shed so that we could have eternal life. Now, as we take this cup, we thank You for Your saving grace and Your unconditional love. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

There is a sweet, sweet spirit in this place

And I know it’s the Spirit of the Lord.

There are sweet expressions on each face,

And I know that it’s the presence of the Lord.

Surely, the presence of the Lord is in this place.

I can feel His mighty power and His grace.

The Lord Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him. Drink ye all of it.

When you go to a birthday party, you might expect balloons, silly-looking hats, streamers, and cake and ice cream. When we celebrate the birthday of the church, we celebrate it differently. We recommit our hearts and lives to the Lord Jesus Christ. When we come to this service, every single one of us makes a decision, a recommitment of our lives, because of the great love Jesus has for us, a love supremely evident on the cross. Some of you have never made the decision to acknowledge Jesus as your Savior. We invite you to make that decision today. Invite him to come into your life. Open your heart to him, and allow him to be your Lord and Savior. Some here today have been considering membership at Morningside. This is the day of commitment, the day for you to make a decision to allow Morningside to be your church family. As we stand together and sing our hymn of invitation, “Breathe on Me,” we invite your response of commitment.

© 2006 Kirk H. Neely

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