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In the upper room

First slide

“What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later” (Jn 13:7).


It took a while for the disciples to get it. It was only after Jesus had died, was raised and ascended into heaven that, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, the disciples finally understood and could witness to the meaning of their master’s mission.


St. Mark writes that “they had not understood the incident of the loaves,” (Mk 6:52). Peter was rebuked at Caesarea Philippi, on Mount Tabor, and in the upper room. Thomas would not believe the first apostolic preaching. Jesus himself had to explain on the road to Emmaus why “it was necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory” (Lk 24:26). It is the same for us Christians today; we often struggle to see what the master is up to, where he is leading us, how our story — inserted into his own — will fit. But Jesus is patient in his teaching and never tires reminding us of the meaning of his mission, especially in his memorial sacrifice of thanksgiving — the Eucharist.


This was one of many graced insights I received on a trip with other seminarians to the Holy Land this past Christmas break. I was struck in a particular way when we visited the Cenacle, the upper room, in Jerusalem.


Father Bargil Pixner, a Benedictine monk who wrote a lot about recent archaeological discoveries in the Holy Land, argued that the site was home to an early Jewish-Christian synagogue that was not oriented to face the Temple Mount, but rather the site of the new sacrifice: Golgotha. It makes sense that the early community would continue to gather at the place where the disciples first received this new covenant from the Lord. We assume from indications in the Gospels that it is also where Jesus “breathed on them” and they received the Holy Spirit on Easter Sunday; where he appeared to Thomas; and where the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of fire on Pentecost. This place is where the disciples gathered and prayed, listening to the word of God in the scriptures and the teaching of Peter and the apostles. This place is where they devoted themselves to fellowship and the breaking of the bread (Acts 2:42). This is the place of the Mass, where the Lord has continued to remind us what he taught us, and where he continues to offer us his very life under the appearance of bread and wine. Praying in the upper room that day, I was “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) thinking of all that had transpired here, but even more because of all that Jesus has done for me, that I might be reminded of why we remain with Jesus in the upper room every Sunday.


Deacon Nyce, who is from St. Veronica Church in Chantilly, is in his fourth year of theology studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019