Thoughts on Courage

April 10, 2016 — Nancy Bancroft
Scripture Readings: Deut. 31 5-8; John 20:19-20 & Luke 24:37-49


From time to time I like to imagine myself in a gospel story. Doing so often gives me insights that I might not otherwise have. The gospels were written after about one hundred years of passing the stories on by word of mouth, and each of the gospels was written for a particular audience and to accomplish a specific purpose. So when we look at an event that is presented in all of the gospels, we see discrepancies in the details. Nevertheless, reading the various versions of the same story, and noticing what the hearers thought important to pass on, can help us enter the experience. That is the case, with the Upper Room. In Matthew we read, “When it was near time for the Passover, the disciples went to Jesus and asked – Where would you like to celebrate the Passover? Jesus answered, “Go to so and so in the city, and say to him, ‘The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.”’ Mark gives more detail: “On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city and you will meet a many carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him, and say to the owner of the house which he enters, ‘The Master says: Where is my dining room in which I can eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room furnished with couches, all prepared. Make preparations for us there.”’ Luke’s rendition is almost identical to Mark, but he gives the names of the disciples. “The day of Unleavened Bread came round, on which the Passover had to be sacrificed and he sent Peter and John. . .”

John does not record the preparation for the Passover supper. The first time he mentions the Upper Room is after the Resurrection. “In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the upper room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you,’ and showed them his hands and his side.”

John goes on to say that Thomas, one of the twelve was not present at this appearance and that when the disciples told him about it, he did not believe. John then records another visit by Jesus, saying, eight days later, the disciples were in the house again, with the doors closed. This time Thomas was present when Jesus appeared to them.

Mark and Luke record the appearance of Jesus to the disciples in the upper room when they were “at table”. The disciples apparently initially paid for the upper room for a one-night celebration, but somebody apparently sent in a check and continued to pay the rent, because fifty days later, according to Acts, the disciples were still in the upper room when the Holy Spirit came to them, as tongues of fire.

The upper room was actually the first Christian church. It’s there that Jesus, through the washing of the feet, taught that service to others is a key component of discipleship. It was in the upper room that Jesus instituted the Eucharist. It was in the upper room that the disciples huddled and supported each other in their grief and fear. It was in the upper room that Jesus appeared to them and strengthened them and it was in the upper room thatthey received the Spirit.

Picturing myself in this upper room, I was struck by how afraid the disciples had to be; expecting that they might experience the same fate as Jesus. If he had been seen as a threat, weren’t his lieutenants also considered dangerous? So my mind jumped to the need for courage. And just as I was planning to write on courage it occurred to me that two capable women from our church took part in a retreat on the subject this Lent. So, I asked them, Lisa and Anne, the share some of their insights.

(Lisa, required an emergency appendectomy on Saturday before she was to give part of the sermon. We will hear from her later this year. Anne Murray shared beautifully, but put very little in writing. One was a quote on courage:

“Courage doesn`t always roar. Sometimes it is the small quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” Mary Anne Radmacher

Anne ended her presentation by leading the congregation in a chant. This is a chant that the Harbour Singers often sing at bedside for those who are at the end-of-life: “Courage dear one, you do not walk alone. We will walk with you, and sing your spirit home.”
The following is a poem I shared at the Call to Worship:

For Courage
When the light around you lessens and your thoughts darken until Your body feels fear turn cold as a stone inside
When you find yourself bereft of any belief in yourself, and all you unknowingly leaned on has fallen
When one voice commands your whole heart, and it is raven dark,
Steady yourself and see that it is your own thinking that darkens your world
Search and you will find a diamond-thought of light,
Know that you are not alone and that this darkness has purpose
Gradually it will school your eyes to find the one gift your life requires, hidden within this night-corner.
Invoke the learning of every suffering you have suffered.
Close your eyes
Gather all the kindling about your heart to create one spark.
That is all you need to nourish the flame that will cleanse the dark of its weight of festered fear.
A new confidence will come alive to urge you towards higher ground where your imagination will learn to engage difficulty as its most rewarding threshold!

—by John O’ Donohue