The Upper Room Anchor
Palm Sunday, that day of triumphal entry which marks the beginning of Easter Week, is just around the corner. On Palm Sunday, Jesus finally lets the secret out – he mounts a donkey as a symbol of Messianic hope which would not have been lost on the eager crowd.
His ride into town on the back of that donkey was a form of communication. Yes, I am your long-awaited Savior, it silently but overtly said. And the people got it – if only for a few brief moments.
With palm branches spread, they prepared a way for their Lord. Hosanna, they shouted. Save us! It was a prayer and a praise, the likes of which you only offer to one worthy of being called a Savior. For a few short minutes on that Sunday, all was well.
By Wednesday, the crowds will have fallen away. By Thursday, Jesus will find himself betrayed. On Friday, he will be unfairly tried and hung to a tree. On Saturday, silence.
One way to experience Easter Week is to see it as a microcosm of the full sweep of human life. In one short week Jesus soars on the heights of triumph and acclaim. Days later, alone in a moonlit garden, he is weeping from the bitter blow of betrayal.
If we’re honest, such is the nature of life.
I started my faith journey with something of a medicated theology – as long as I did my time and watched my way, things would go smoothly. I would be “blessed.” I would be secure. I would be safe.
Of course, these things are in some ways true – I just didn’t know what they meant. Over the last two decades, in his gentle, steady way, God has ushered me into a wilder world that swirls with unharnessed beauty and mystery, a land far beyond the safety of formulas and relational quid pro quo.
There is no hiding from pain, I know now. There will be seasons of suffering, seasons of Summer. There will be highs of joy and consummation, lows of anxiety and disillusionment. This is how living is, and our connection to God was never intended to shield us from it.
Instead, our life with God invites us to experience these seasons redemptively, because Easter tells us that what gets silently slipped into each frozen and exposed winter are seeds of resurrection.
A few days after Palm Sunday, the disciples found themselves alone with Jesus. It was calm before the storm. Knowing the array of emotion that lay just ahead, Jesus gave his beloved friends an upper room anchor to hold to: “Remain in my love.”
11 times in 10 verses, he says it:
Take up residence in me, as I make my home in you.
In our world of status and status updates, the cultural call is clear: make progress, soar higher, achieve more, climb the ladder, get to the top. In short, arrive.
In the upper room, Jesus offers an alternative at the heart of Christian spirituality: abide.
In each season of the soul, our task is to stay with Jesus, keeping company with him as he tends to us through his craft of planting, pruning, and harvesting. But abiding isn’t easy when we don’t see ourselves getting closer to arriving at the goals for life we cherish.
Can we remain when we don’t understand the cards we’ve been dealt? And how do I abide when he shapes my life differently than everyone around me and I feel like a fool?
In this moment of coronavirus, questions like these cut to the deepest places we hold dear:
Can I remain connected to God when my big plans for growth are cut backwards?
Can I rest in the care of God, even when I’m not sure my most basic needs for provision, safety, health and vocation are secure?
Can I trust that lament and loss can have their say without that meaning they’ll have the final word?
I’m convinced a vital part of our spiritual formation is our willingness to stay connected with Jesus throughout each season of life. And a life of faith is not an “eternal summer”. Just as the world does with each rotation ’round the sun, our lives will orbit too around the mystery of faith patterned by Jesus: life, suffering, death, and resurrection to life again. This is the Paschal path.
Each season carries blessing and burdens, but winter is the harshest. When winter time comes, we are naked, cut back, exposed. We cannot make the season change, but we also cannot run from the reality that if the season doesn’t change, we may not make it. We cannot control moments like these. We can only bear them, only abide in the midst of them. Wintertime too is a “normal” part of the Christian journey.
For a while we may wonder what happened to God’s big promises. For a time we may scream, and rightfully so. There is no need to slap on a “faith” that minimizes the deep sting of loss and death. But one message of the journey to the Cross is that Christ comes to scream alongside us. And the Man for all seasons will lead us out of wintertime, to a place where death dies and all things live. In Jesus, the final word is always life.
In the upper room then, Jesus prepares his followers for the difficult days ahead. He breathes peace on them, and with it the invitation to move from a life built on doing, achieving, and seizing, to a spirituality which circles around abiding, bending, and yielding.
Everything we do is meaningless, Jesus says, if it takes us out of a place of well-connected, loving union with him.
If, when he asks me to, I refuse let go of the very season which sustained and brought me life yesterday, I end up settling for a plate of porridge when God had birthrights of new growth and healing to give in the scary unknown of a new day.
So my friends, in the midst of this deeply disorienting season, take the time to hear the voice which calls you the Beloved. And take time to learn to talk that first language back. Stay connected to the Vine. That is the real essential task of apprenticeship to Jesus in this time. Consider how you might co-labor with God’s work in this season of your soul. Hold to hope that resurrection may yet touch places long dead in your heart.
As you receive life from Jesus, you won’t need to avoid doing your own heart work. You’ll find him knocking on the doors of each room of your wounded heart, the Father’s house. Jesus has good news still to share to all that is afraid, all that is ashamed, all that is at stake. He’ll bring the bread and wine, and there you’ll share a meal of forgiveness and healing.
I know opening up to that knock can be terrifying, especially in the places that hurt the most. He can be trusted. And if you, in company with our community, allow Jesus to become the risen Lord over your deep pain, fear and shame, you will live on both this side of death and the next.
It’s deep waters. It’s challenging work. But he who began the work will embrace you while you are still on the way home. He’ll be your refuge. He’ll be your pathway. He’ll lead you all the way through. In fact, He’s already marinating the fatted calf. He’ll tell you you belong at the table, and not out working for a portion in the fields.
We journey on, setting all our hopes on the Christ that is to Rise on the other side of Easter.