Today’s reading is Mark 14:12-26:
On the first day of the Festival 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 room upstairs,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.
When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”
They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”
“It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
In April 2013 I had the blessed opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with 30 of my brother priests from the Archdiocese of Boston and our own Archbishop, Cardinal Seán O’Malley. The title of the pilgrimage was “Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus,” and we literally did this as we visited the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, Jericho, the Jordan River, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. A particularly graced moment of the pilgrimage is when we were in Jerusalem and celebrated Mass in the Upper Room. As I was walking up the stairs and getting ready to enter the room my mind was flooded with thoughts about the importance of that space in salvation history. It was, after all, the room where Jesus instituted the Eucharist and where the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles at Pentecost. I kept picturing in my mind how grand and nice of a room this must be! And as I opened the door and walked in I was surprised to see that today’s selection from Mark’s Gospel which describes the Upper Room was literally true: it’s simply “a large upper room furnished and ready.” While many beautiful and powerful moments in salvation happened in that room I was struck by the humanity of the space in its ordinariness.
In the midst of my initial recognition of the simplicity of the Upper Room, as Mass began I began to appreciate that the room was nothing but ordinary, for this was the room where Jesus the Teacher desired to celebrate the Passover with His disciples. Jesus had been in that very room, and where I was sitting and standing was exactly where Jesus had once stood and sat. This realism of faith in the person of Jesus was truly overwhelming to contemplate. When I returned from my pilgrimage to the Holy Land I visited all the classes at my parish parochial school and told the children about my trip. I put together a power point presentation that included pictures from the various places that we visited along with accompanying Scripture passages that related to each site. The Scripture passage I attached to the picture of the Upper Room was from the selection we have from Mark’s Gospel today, “Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there. The disciples then went off, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover.” In a 7th grade classroom where I was making my presentation a young woman raised her hand and said, “Father, I’m absolutely amazed by this whole thing! I didn’t realize that where Jesus lived and walked, you know, I didn’t realize that these are actually real places here on earth.” After she said this her classmates broke out in laughter. However, she wasn’t kidding. I told the kids that she was making a good point, because Christianity isn’t mythology and Jesus isn’t a dream or a memory from some other world way long ago. Jesus is real and He actually walked on this earth close to 2,000 years ago. That young woman had a moving realization there that the story of Jesus is grounded in history, and He isn’t some distant deity from years past but has actually entered into our human experience. The presence of Jesus in that Upper Room was real in His celebration of the Passover meal with His disciples, and Catholic belief maintains that Jesus is still really and substantially present in the Eucharist whenever and wherever the Mass is celebrated. On that pilgrimage to the Holy Land I was able to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, and I was blessed to encounter the real presence of God there in that Upper Room where the Eucharistic Passover was first celebrated by Jesus Himself.
Fr. Mark Murphy is the Undergraduate Chaplain of the Harvard Catholic Center.