An Upper Room did our Lord prepare

Bible Study

An Upper Room did our Lord prepare: Fred Pratt Green

Bible Study by Alan Luff

An Upper Room did our Lord prepare
for those he loved until the end:
and his disciples still gather there
to celebrate their Risen Friend.

A lasting gift Jesus gave his own:
to share his bread, his loving cup.
Whatever burdens may bow us down,
he by his Cross shall lift us up.

And after Supper he washed their feet
for service, too, is sacrament.
In him our joy shall be made complete –
sent out to serve, as he was sent.

No end there is! We depart in peace,
he loves beyond the uttermost:
in every room in our Father’s house
he will be there as Lord and Host.

Fred Pratt Green 1903-2000
© 1974 Stainer & Bell Ltd
9.8.9.8.

Principal Passages for reading

Mark 14. 12–25
Luke 22. 14–23
John 13. 1–17; 14, 1–4
I Corinthians 11. 23–26

The mention of an ‘upper room’ is confined to three places in the New Testament. The statement in Mark, which St Luke closely follows, indicates that the arrangements for the preparation for the sharing of the Passover meal were made in an Upper Room: the reference in Acts 1. 13 to an upper room that the apostles were using as a kind of headquarters in the days immediately after his Resurrection. Later in Acts we find Peter returning home to some such headquarters (Acts 12. 12) described as the home of Mary mother of Mark. In that case this may be the room where Jesus appeared to the disciples who had locked themselves in ‘for fear of the Jews’ (Luke 24. 33; John 20. 19), and where according to John the Holy Spirit was given to them. And was this the house that was shaken by ‘the mighty rushing wind’ at Pentecost?

Clearly the ‘Upper Room’ is an image full of meaning in the New Testament and in the minds of many Christians, as a place of retreat and sanctuary, a place of meeting with fellow Christians and with their Lord, above all the Risen Lord. But the Upper Room was a place of both retreat and challenge. FPG takes up the sense of sanctuary in the first verse of the hymn, adding the reference from John 13. 1 concerning the love of Jesus for his disciples.

In fact the prevailing atmosphere of the hymn throughout is that of the account in St John’s Gospel of Jesus’ last evening with his disciples. Verse 3 moves to the washing of the disciples’ feet. Verse 4 has an unmistakable reference to John 14.

But FPG picks up the reference in John 13. 4 that there was a supper and that it was during the supper that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. John has no account of the institution of the Eucharist. Clearly however he knows the Eucharist in the Church intimately. There is no fuller exposition of its meaning than that in John 6, where Jesus follows the Feeding of the Five Thousand with his teaching (6. 35) that he himself is ‘the Bread of life’, and in John 15 where he declares, ‘I am the true Vine’. So verse 2 speaks of the Last Supper and the ‘lasting gift’ of the sacrament that Jesus gave his ‘own’, his disciples then, the faithful Church today. FPG moves in the last two lines to what may indeed be his own experience of receiving the sacrament, that it enables us to bear burdens. But his move of thought from the sacrament to the cross echoes the earliest account of the institution of the sacrament in I Corinthians 11. 23–26 where Paul declares that whenever we partake we ‘proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes’.

But though the Upper Room may be a place of spiritual sanctuary it is also a place of challenge, and our experience at the Sacrament, though one of the most intimate and personal things in our lives is by no means to be an enclosed experience. In verse 3 we have the disciples having their feet washed by their Lord. But this too was not a matter to be hugged each to themselves as a purely personal privilege. Immediately he had set aside the towel and taken his place amongst them Jesus drew out the lesson that it is service to one another that will show their greatest likeness to him.

And so the final verse begins with a memorable declaration of the openness of the life of those who receive the body and blood of Christ, ‘No end is here’. We are now momentarily with every local church, coming to end of their time of being apart to celebrate the Sacrament. We depart in peace, having received the outward sign of the utter love of God that can prevail even when inwardly we are full of doubt and hesitation.

There remains, necessarily for the understanding of the Eucharist, a final couplet. This sacrament is not for all eternity. It is for this time of separation, while we wait and long for the time when God will be all in all. On that last night in the Upper Room Jesus had a word on this too. The disciples expressed their anxiety when Jesus said that he would be leaving them; he responded by promising a place in his Father’s house, that place with many dwelling places, where he himself will be present to preside for all eternity as the Host of his own feast.

As we leave our local place of meeting with our fellow Christians, separating from them, and going into a world where what we have just done may be very little understood, we need both of these final emphases from the hymn. We need to know that we go out to serve. We may quote another great hymn for the end of the Eucharist, close perhaps to FPG’s heart, Charles Wesley’s words:

Forth in thy name. O Lord, I go,
my daily labour to pursue,
thee, only thee, resolved to know
in all I think, or speak, or do.

But in all the struggles of daily life we need to know that at the End as at the Beginning, there is Jesus, who will welcome us as ‘Lord and Host’.

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