HOMILY: The Lesson of the Upper Room

Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted weekly at Leaven in the World prior to a given Sunday. To see the archive of all his posts, just click hereSalesian Sermons

7th Sunday of Easter, Year A |May 31/June 1, 2014

PROTIP: Before reading on, be sure to take a look at the Sunday readings here. This homily focuses on the Gospel reading.

It’s funny sometimes how your imagination pictures a place and idealizes it, even though you’ve never actually been there.

I find I do that when I think of the upper room from Scripture.   It is definitely a multi-purpose space in my head.  In one scene, it can serve as the room where the disciples gathered together to pray and wait for the Spirit.  In another, it serves as the backdrop for Jesus as he breaks bread and prays with his friends for the final time.

No matter what scene I am picturing in my head, the upper room is always the perfect place for prayer.

It is quiet with dim mood lighting.  There are candles and comfy pillows.  Each person is calm and serene, eyes closed and gentle smiles on their lips.  Just to be in that upper room is to be on sacred ground.

The irony I find in my life is that my idealized upper room is everything that my actual upper room is not.

See I too live and pray in an upper room, on the 2nd floor of the rectory, but that is where the companions end.  My room faces a typical Wilmington street filled with cars honking, rap music blaring, people yelling, guns firing, sirens roaring, children laughing, mowers running.  My chair is painfully uncomfortable.   My room is a jumbled mess of stacks of paper.  And my candle sits half burned and collecting dust.

But even more problematic is my own experience of prayer most days.  I am anything but calm and serene.  I am tired, anxious, cranky, excited.  When I close my eyes I just end up falling asleep or slipping into a daydream that involves all of the things that await me on my to-do-list.

Yeah, there are many ways to describe my upper room, sacred ground isn’t one of them.

Which is why when I actually sat with these readings for the weekend, I began to realize how unhelpful my idealized view of the upper room was.

For it wasn’t even accurate.  The upper room we hear about today was just a room with 1st century lighting, wooden benches, and dirt coating the floor.  And we can be sure that there was nothing calm or serene about the circumstances that the disciples faced.

In one scenario, you have a group of frightened disciples hiding in an upper room, confused by recent turns of events, unsure of the future, conflicted, afraid.  In another, you have a man preparing for his own death . . . his friends grappling with denial, loss, sorrow, bravado, and uncertainty.

When Scripture describes them praying, it never envisioned this as some sort of model of perfection.

It was just honesty.

Faced with all of these tumultuous emotions, faced with all of the noise that threatened to drown everything else out.

They prayed.

It doesn’t really matter what was said.  It could be the articulate prayers of Jesus himself or the groans of the disciples that could not even be expressed in words.

What matters is that they said it.  They expressed their dreams and hopes, their fears and sorrow, their confusion and their anger.  As they were.  Without rationalization.  Without trying to excuse them or deny them.

And in turn, these holy men and women invite us to do the same.

For we too are faced with a cacophony of sounds that threaten to drown out our own prayers:

It can be the overwhelming technological barrage that we are constantly receiving.  TV, Smartphones, Internet, Facebook, Twitter.   In this digital age, we struggle to unplug, to tune out, and to be present.

It can be our lives that are so busy that we no longer know how to stop, to breathe, to pray.

It can be our fear of not praying perfectly.  Of not knowing the right words.  Of somehow offending God with our honesty, especially when we are hurt, angry or confused.

It can be past events that raise tough questions . . . Where was God when I needed him?  He never answered that prayer.  What kind of God would stay silent in the midst of my pain?  The silence into which we speak strangles our attempts to pray once again.

And, like the disciples, we too are faced with a choice.

We can wait for an idealized world in which we have the time and the space, the peace of mind and the right words to say.

Or we can start praying now.  Wherever we are.

Words of gratitude.  Desperate pleas.  Joyful shouts.  Angry rebukes.  Painful questions.  Agonizing sighs.  Gentle hellos.  Silently being, waiting, listening.

All prayers before our loving God.

This is the lesson of the Upper Room.  That all of our lives, all of our rooms are potentially sacred ground.

This is the lesson that the Scriptures offer us today.

May we open our ears and our hearts to the God who hears every prayer, who holds every tear, who shares every laugh, who dispels every fear.

Let us pray, my friends.

May God be Praised.

Image courtesy of http://www.cruzblanca.org/hermanoleon/

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One Reply to “HOMILY: The Lesson of the Upper Room”

  1. Brian
    Once again you accurately capture the essence of the message in today’s readings. I know I also visualize the upper room in an idealistic way, but so important to put it into correct context.
    I have grown in my prayer life through your guidance and example.
    I pray for you every day as you continue to serve God’s people.
    Great being with you on your birthday!
    Have a great last week of school!
    Love you!

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