The Cenacle

The Cenacle As it Exists Today
Jerusalem, Israel

Lectionary Text:  John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them…”Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The Cenacle, from the Latin cenaculum, or “Upper Room”, is the place where this final gathering takes place.  We usually think of this night as the night of “The Last Supper”, when the Eucharist that we so dearly love came to be.  And yet, the writer of the version of the Gospel narrative that we call John barely mentions the dinner at all.  There seems to be much more focus on Jesus himself, on what he was feeling at this moment, and how he understood what was about to happen to him.  So, if only for a moment, let us forget about the meal…

I visited the site known as the “Upper Room” when I was in Israel last year.  Now understand that it’s more than likely not the REAL Upper Room.  No one really knows for sure where that was.  The traditional site may have been built by the Crusaders possibily into a building that was already there and had survived the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. under Titus.  But there was still something about going to this Upper Room.  When I entered, my first thought was, “no, this can’t be right!  It’s too big.”  I suppose all of the artistic renditions to which I’ve been exposed over the years had gotten the best of me.  I had somehow imagined this stuffy little room in someone’ attic.  This couldn’t be right.  Then I went back and read the Scripture text.  No where does it say that the disciples were alone with Jesus.  This was the Passover feast, which would have started with the traditional Seder meal including friends and extended family.  And THEN Jesus got up from the table and went to the disciples.

But rather than looking at it solely as an historical event, think about what it really meant.  Jesus knew that this was his final night.  Everything was coming down to this place and this time–his birth, his life, his ministry–and he knew that things were about to change forever.  And all he could think about in that moment was how much he loved those who had been with him.  Yes, they were a little bumbling sometimes, maybe a little too focused on what was in it for them.  And he knew that they really didn’t understand the whole thing.  But they had stuck with him.  How he loved them!  And so he gets up and kneels and washes their feet, taking each foot in both hands and caressing it like a parent caresses his or her child.  It did not matter what they thought. It did not matter that they did not understand.  And it certainly did not matter what anyone around them thought.  This was the moment.  This was the moment when he would teach them to love, would teach them to be vulnerable, would teach them to sit, to just sit there in the presence of their Lord. 

It is hard for us to understand because it is hard for us to just sit and be in the moment, to shut out the world if only for awhile.  But this moment is its own.  For in this moment, Jesus does not think about what is to come.  For just a moment, Jesus does not worry whether or not the disciples can do what needs to be done when he is gone.  And for just a moment, this moment, here in this Cenacle, nothing else in the world matters–not the betrayal, not the denial, not the time when he will die alone and despised by most of the world.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  And so in this moment, Jesus loves.

It would be his final teaching.  I think it probably is THE teaching.  Everything is swept into to this moment–this Announced, God-With-Us, Spirit-empowered, disciple-calling, teaching, healing, raising, anointing moment.  It all ends with Love.

The Garden of Gethsemane
Jerusalem, Israel
February, 2010

After this, the Matthean version of the Gospel depicts Jesus going into the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples and then going off to pray.  It was his final surrender.  As the night goes on, the events move faster, speeding through an almost surreal order–the betrayal, the handing over, the mock trial–until Jesus is supposedly imprisoned in a dark dungeon in the House of Caiaphas, the high priest.  There he would wait the dawn of Friday morning.

We enter now that Upper Room
And take the wine and bread
And sit as our Lord washes our feet
When we feel we should be washing instead
A late night walk down a winding path,
Into the garden we go
And in the cold of night, Jesus says
Something that we already know.
For on this night it all will end
With naught but a single kiss
Our friend, our teacher, and our Lord
Surely it can’t be ending like this.
Our Lord Jesus now is whisked away
In a flurry of chaotic swarm
And we are left with a helpless silence
As the clouds gather for the storm.
The sun has set in blackest night
And my Lord lies in chains
What has brought us to this place?
Which of us is full of blame?
The Ruins of the House of Caiaphas
Jerusalem, Israel, February, 2010

As we come so near to the Cross, let us not grieve yet.  Let us, just for a moment, love as Jesus loves.

Grace and Peace in this holiest of weeks,


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