By the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Bridgewater, Massachusetts, April 29, 2001

Psalm 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 majesty.
He wraps himself in light as with a garment;
     he stretches out the heavens like a tent
     and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
     and rides on the wings of the wind.
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 mountains.
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 them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross;
     never again will they cover the earth.

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 thirst.
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

On 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?"

So 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."

The 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 his chambers"

In 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 heaven.

Arcana Coelestia #3900.7 "Inner rooms"

In 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.

"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." (Mark 14:14, 15)

Our 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.

In 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!

For 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 afternoon.

However, 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.

The 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.

Yet 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.

The 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.

For 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.

With 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!

But 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.

Whenever 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.

And 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.

What 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?

The 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 kitchen.

All 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.

So 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.

This 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 church.

This, 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 small.

Yet 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.

So 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.

We 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.

Yes, 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.

Music:  How Great Thou Art