“He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there Luke 22:12
The scene in the Upper Room asks us questions about worship in the church. What example does Jesus set us? What sort of worship is this gathering in the Upper Room? Is our church like that gathering? If it’s not, what needs to change in order that we might be closer to the example that Jesus sets us?
Each one of us has our own preferences regarding worship. I like quietness. If I attend church as a member of the congregation, I try to attend a quiet service. If there is a Communion service earlier than the main morning service, at 8 am or similar, I will attend that service rather than the one where there will be noise. If I’m in a cathedral, I like the service of evensong, sung by the choir with nothing expected of me but to sit and listen to the beauty. If I can, I always sit at the back and I am always relieved if it’s a service in Seventeenth Century English because I know there will not be that moment when you have to shake hands with people. I am aware that my preference might be at some distance of the worship in the Upper Room, that I should really look at the example Jesus sets.
When we look at Saint Luke’s description of the Last Supper in Chapter 22 Verses 7-22, there are pointers to the way the worship might be organized.
‘Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed’ says Verse 7. The Jewish people had a very structured liturgical year with special times and seasons throughout the year. From its earliest days, the church kept particular times as special; starting out with the observance of Easter and the observance of every Sunday as a day when the Lord’s resurrection was remembered. If Jesus saw sense in observing the times and seasons of the Jewish calendar, then we would do well to organize our worship in a way that teaches us about the life of Jesus. Church seasons are not observed in the way they once were, the season of Lent certainly is not observed in the way it was, but there is good sense in using the flow of the year to teach and to learn about Jesus; if every Sunday is just the same, then that opportunity is lost.
In Verse 8, we are told, ‘Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.’
The Passover meal is an occasion for people to eat together, but it is also an occasion of worship, an occasion to formally remember God freeing his people from slavery; it is an occasion which demands careful preparation. How much preparation goes into much of our worship? Perhaps the finger of accusation might be most easily pointed at churches which use set liturgies, where the priest can open a book read the prayers, but it can apply as much to evangelical churches, where the worship leader improvises and where it is sometimes clear that they have done no preparation, or where they simply repeat certain words.
Peter and John are told to go and make preparations; not only is there to be careful preparation, but that preparation is to be done by the two leading members of the group—a lesson in humility that church leaders frequently need!
Told to go into the city and follow a man carrying a jar of water, an action that was an example of service that we might easily miss—carrying water was the work of women—Peter and John are told to say in Verse 11, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’
‘The guest room’, a room for welcoming strangers; it’s a question we should remember when we come to worship. If a stranger walked in among us, would they feel the welcome a guest should feel? Would they find our church as welcoming as a guest room should be?
‘He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished’, says Jesus in Verse 12.
‘A large room’ a room sufficient to hold a goodly number of people, a room bigger than one in which you might meet just your close friends, but a room that is upstairs, giving a sense that you are being welcomed into a family residence.
It’s always a challenge to make our worship seem like something which is in a large room upstairs. The church should feel as though there is space for everyone; those who want to sit at the back and those who sit at the front, those who want to actively participate and those who prefer instead to listen and to think. Worship should feel like being in a room large enough for anyone who wishes to be present, yet it should feel like a room, a place where no-one is invisible, no-one is unnoticed, no-one feels lost.
Does our worship have the feel of being ‘upstairs’, being a place where we have been ushered in as people who matter, being a place where we are welcomed as members of a family?
‘Make preparations there’, says Jesus. He tells them a second time that they should prepare; that this should not be a casual matter, but that everything should be made ready with careful attention and thought. When we attend worship, it should be our wish that everything has been prepared carefully. If we do not care about our building or its furnishings, if we do not make sure our services are the best they can be, then what does it say about our attitude to God? If our worship is sloppy and ill-prepared, what does that say about our faith?
Saint Luke tells us in Verse 13, ’They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover’. The two men who were going to be major figures in the first days of the church go and get things ready; they act as servants for the rest of the group. They prepare the room for the person who comes as the servant of all.
The idea that we are here to serve other people is one that is not popular today. Churches are marked by hierarchy, even churches which have no ordained clergy develop their own hierarchies, some people being more important than others. When there is the temptation to feel that something is not our role, perhaps we should remember Peter and John being sent to get things ready.
Worship is about serving and it is about forgiving. ‘When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table’, says Verse 14. Whether they liked it or not, the disciples, who had frequently argued with each other, had now to sit in close proximity and share the Passover meal. The disputes had to be set aside. When we come to worship, when we join in the prayers of confession, we must ask ourselves whether we have set aside our disputes.
In Verses 19-20, Jesus takes and blesses and breaks and shares the bread and blesses the cup and shares it. The whole of the preparation has led up to this moment. Breaking the bread and sharing the cup, Jesus shows God’s love for his people and shows God’s way of doing things. God comes as a servant, he expects his people to follow his example.
The Upper Room challenges us: it challenges us about our worship, it challenges us about our relationships with other people, it challenges us about our understanding of God.