the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Massachusetts, April 29, 2001
104:1-13 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers
Praise the Lord,
O my soul.
O Lord my God,
you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and
He wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like
and lays the beams of his upper
chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the
He makes winds his messengers,
flames of fire his servants.
He set the earth
on its foundations;
it can never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the
But at your rebuke the waters fled;
at the sound of your thunder they
took to flight;
they flowed over the mountains,
they went down into the valleys,
to the place you assigned for
You set a boundary they cannot cross;
never again will they cover the
He makes springs
pour water into the ravines;
it flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their
The birds of the air nest by the waters;
they sing among the branches.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
the earth is satisfied by the
fruit of his work.
Mark 14:12-16 The upper room
the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was
customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus' disciples asked
him, "Where do you want us to go and make preparations for
you to eat the Passover?"
he sent two of his disciples, telling them, "Go into the
city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow
him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks:
Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my
disciples?' He will show you a large upper room, furnished and
ready. Make preparations for us there."
disciples left, went into the city and found things just as
Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
Arcana Coelestia #5694.4 "He waters the mountains from
the spiritual sense, "watering the mountains" means
blessing those who love the Lord and their neighbor. A
"mountain" means the heavenly aspects of love. So
"from his chambers" means from the deeper parts of
Arcana Coelestia #3900.7 "Inner rooms"
the Bible's deeper meaning, the "inner rooms," or
"secret recesses," are the parts of our religion that
relate to goodness--and also goodness itself. A religion that is
involved in goodness is called "the house of God," and
the "inner rooms" are the different kinds of goodness
in the house. "The house of God" means divine
goodness, and "a house" in general means good that
comes from love and kindness.
to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: Where is
my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?'
He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make
preparations for us there." (Mark 14:14, 15)
Gospel reading today tells of events that led up to the Lord's
last supper with his disciples just before he was crucified.
Since Easter was two weeks ago, it may feel as if we just hit a
skip in the record, and we're doing things all over again.
truth, we simply didn't have enough time in the Sunday School
schedule to get enough of the Gospel stories in before Easter,
so we're continuing with three more after Easter, before
we move on to the Book of Revelation. One of the happy side
effects of this is that the children will learn about the
resurrection of the Lord in their Sunday School classes next
week, which will make up for the fact that there is no Sunday
School on Easter!
the adults, who did hear about the resurrection on Easter
Sunday, I have something else in mind to talk about next week,
relating to the ambitious plans for the future of our church in
Massachusetts that will be presented to those who attend the
Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Association next Sunday
today we will time-warp back to an event that took place on the
Thursday before Easter Sunday. Though Jesus had been in the
vicinity of Jerusalem all week, he did not stay the night in the
city. It was too dangerous, since the Sanhedrin (the Jewish
ruling council) had issued what amounted to an arrest warrant
out on Jesus. He was safe in the daytime when he was among the
crowds, since many of the people saw Jesus as a great prophet,
if not the Messiah himself. The Jewish leaders wanted to avoid
arresting him openly, since that might cause a riot, leading to
a crackdown by their Roman rulers.
time to apprehend Jesus was at night, when the crowds were at
home sleeping, and only Jesus' immediate followers would be with
him. Jesus knew of this danger--and he had his own schedule for
things to unfold in their proper timing and order. So at night,
he and his disciples withdrew from the city to the Mount of
Olives, which was located across the Kidron Valley. Some nights
he apparently spent at the homes of friends in Bethany, a small
town just beyond the Mount of Olives.
the place to eat the Passover was in Jerusalem. And Jesus
intended to eat it there with his disciples before the Jewish
leaders had a chance to arrest him. So he made arrangements to
hold it in a secret place, where they would be out of sight of
the Sanhedrin's hired hands. The place he chose was the large
upper room of a private home in Jerusalem.
upper room. To a common person of those days, it would have had
a special ring to it. Only people who were better off than
average had houses with more than one floor. And since this was
a large upper room, it is likely that Jesus' host was
among the wealthier class of people. Perhaps it was someone like
Joseph of Arimathea, a rich member of the Sanhedrin who was a
disciple of Jesus. Or Nicodemus, a Pharisee and also a member of
the Sanhedrin, who became one of Jesus' disciples as well. Or
perhaps he had other friends in high places. We'll never know,
because the Gospels don't name the owner of the house.
us, removed by two thousand years from the time and the culture
in which Jesus lived, that large upper room takes on a different
meaning. To us it does not speak of material wealth--after all,
houses with more than one floor are commonplace in our culture.
Rather, it gives us a sense of spiritual richness. Just
as the upper room lifted Jesus and his disciples up above the
level of the streets, with their hubbub of daily business and
activity, so the upper room where the Lord shared his last meal
on this earth with his closest disciples and spiritual
companions lifts our thoughts from our ordinary, everyday
affairs to higher, spiritual matters of love and wisdom,
understanding and human motivation, goodness and truth.
all the rich symbolism and mystery that comes to mind when we
hear where Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples, you
would think Swedenborg would make a point of explaining the
deeper meanings of the upper room. However, in all of
Swedenborg's writings, there is not a single reference to the
two verses in Mark and Luke where it is mentioned. And
considering that I had already decided to preach this Sunday on
"Eating in the Upper Room" before I looked up the
verse in Swedenborg, that could have been a problem!
not to worry. Swedenborg explains the symbolism involved in this
verse when he comments on other, similar verses elsewhere in the
Bible. And though it does take a bit of piecing together from
various passages, the picture that emerges is one that has rich
meaning both for our individual spiritual lives and for the life
of spiritual community that we call the church. Just as the Lord
lifted his disciples above the commonplace level of humanity in
order to share that sacred meal with them, so he seeks to raise
each one of us, his present-day disciples--and the church as a
whole--to a higher level of thinking, feeling and living.
the Bible mentions (in a good sense) a mountain or a hill or
anything lifted up above the ordinary places where people live
and work, it represents a spiritual state of being closer to
God. To put it in physical imagery, the sun, as the center of
the solar system and the source of all warmth, light, and
energy, represents the Lord; and the sky, with the sun, moon,
and stars, represents heaven. The earth--and especially the
plains and valleys where most people live--represents the human,
material, outward world. So anything that moves away from ground
level and toward the sun represents greater closeness to the
Lord. The mountains, as the highest thing on earth, represent
the greatest closeness to the Lord.
yet there is something higher than the mountains. The
sky, from which comes sunlight and warmth, clouds, rain, and
even snow, is higher than the mountains. The earth--including
the mountains--is fed from the sky. And so the ancients saw the
sky as being the location of heaven--the home and dwelling place
of God. In the beautiful and inspiring Psalm 104 we read the
words, "He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work." The upper
chambers referred to here are not the work of human hands; they
are the rooms of the house of God in the heavens.
is it that causes us to dwell in the house of God? When do we
share a meal with the Lord and with one another in that
spiritual upper room?
image is so beautiful and appropriate. We know that the people
we share our homes and our meals with here on earth are those we
love. Yes, we share various rooms with many different people in
our business life, at school, when we go shopping, and in many
other situations throughout our weeks, months, and years. But
these are mostly professional or casual acquaintances. Our home
is special. Unless we are running a business out of our home, we
share it daily only with our family members and friends. And
even if we do have a home-based business, when it comes time for
the evening meal, it is family, and perhaps some of our closer
friends, that sit around the table with us in our dining room or
of this points to the meaning of our house, and the rooms in it.
Our house represents what we love the most. It is where we
gather our treasured possessions--reminders of special people
and events in our lives. It is where we return after our day at
work or school is over. It is where we take off our working
clothes or our business suit and slip into something relaxing
and comfortable. If it is a real home for us, it is where
we are most comfortable, where we relax and express our true
thoughts and feelings to the people who know us best, and who
are closest to us. Yes, our home is the focal point of all our
closest relationships. And our love for the people in our
household is what makes those relationships.
it is not surprising that Swedenborg says that spiritually,
houses, and the rooms in them, mean "the good that comes
from love and kindness." And the upper, or inner rooms of a
house relate to the higher and deeper loves in us. The very
closest relationships that we can have with others are on a
spiritual level. The people we are the closest to are the ones
with whom we can share our faith, our love for God, our love for
serving others in a deeper, more personal and spiritual way.
These are the people we share our spiritual meals with.
is why I find it so beautiful and powerful that Jesus chose to
eat his last supper with his disciples in the upper room. It
gives a model for us to follow when we seek to build our
spiritual family into a church that truly reflects the Lord's
will for his church on earth. Yes, Jesus spent time out in the
streets with the people, making his way through the crowds,
teaching out in the fields, in the public squares of towns and
cities, and in the temple itself. But for those who believed in
him and chose to follow him, he built the church up on the
mountain sides and in the homes and upper rooms of those he
loved. And he is telling us by this that what truly builds a
church is the special, deep love we share with one another, and
with all who will open up their hearts to the Lord and the
I believe, is a special challenge to those of us who call
ourselves by the name of the New Jerusalem. As I look back on
the history of our church--and here I am talking about the
overall New Church, or Swedenborgian movement--what strikes me
is that throughout most of our history we have had a rather
intellectual air about us. That is not surprising, given
Swedenborg's powerful intellect and the level of mental
concentration and depth of thought required to make it very far
into the teachings of our church. However, that very
intellectualism has tended to limit us to the few, keeping us
the basic teachings of our church are very simple. Anyone can
understand them. And the center of them all is the love of God.
Wisdom and knowledge--which we also value very highly--are
simply a means of expressing love. Without a love for God and a
love for our fellow human beings, all the spiritual learning and
knowledge in the world means nothing, because it is separated
from its life and its reason for existence.
the challenge of the upper room, for each one of us individually
and for all of us together as a church community, is to do
everything we do because we truly love the Lord and truly love
one another. If we are to be a spiritual family that shares its
meals together in that upper room of closeness to the Lord, we
must do it, not on the basis of our superior understanding of
spiritual principles, but on the basis of a heartfelt desire to
use what we know in showing love to one another and to everyone
we see each day.
can show that love in many ways. As we go about our jobs and our
daily work, we can show love by doing our best job, and
providing the best service to the people we come in contact with
each day--and doing it because we truly care about people want
to serve them, and not just for the paycheck. In our homes, we
can show love by the help and support we give to our family
members and friends, by a kind and encouraging word here, a
helping hand there. In our closest connections with family,
friends, and the people of our church, we can show our deeper
love as we share in one another's joy and pain, triumph and
tragedy, loss and new beginnings. Together we can commune with
the Lord, opening our minds to the spiritual guidance that comes
from the Bible and from the teachings of our church, opening our
hearts to the powerful love of the Lord, and expressing that
love to others.
the church is far more than a collection of teachings that we
are to learn and obey. The church is truly a gathering of souls
who have dedicated their lives to love. The church is a
continual meal with the Lord and with one another, sharing our
thoughts and feelings, supporting one another, feeding each
other with the bread of life. And though we have communion only
a few days a year--and today is not one of them--it somehow
seems appropriate that each week we share fellowship and
refreshments with one another after our service of worship is
over. Because as ordinary as it may seem, every time we share
food together, we are eating in the upper room of God's love and
wisdom. And it is this spirit that we carry with us from this
place, and share with others throughout the week. Amen.
Great Thou Art