They returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. (Acts 1.12-14)
Luke tells us that they were looking up into heaven as Jesus was taken from them and then two angels are standing there saying to them
‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?’ (Acts 1.11)
It brought them back to earth. You can’t spend your life staring into the space where you last saw someone. You have to move on – they had to move on but the irony is that that meant returning to Jerusalem. In Luke’s Gospel, before the account of the Ascension, Jesus says to the disciples
‘Stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ (Luke 24.49)
They were not to leave Jerusalem, not to leave the city. It was a call to stability, a call to presence. And so they go back to the room in the city that has served as their base. The tradition is that this is the Upper Room, in Luke’s words, the ‘room upstairs’, the place in which they had shared in the Last Supper, the room into which Jesus had come after his resurrection, the room of doubt for Thomas, the room of encounter, the room in which the Lord has ‘stayed with them’.
And in this space which has become the first church they gather again and Luke lists who is there. The list includes the women, the list includes Mary. I have called it the ‘first church’, the place of Eucharist, the place of presence and the house of prayer and it is to that that they devote themselves, with Mary, in expectation.
Each of our churches, wherever they are, be they large or small, cathedrals or parish churches, chapels, grand or simple, are places of Eucharist, of presence, of prayer, the place of expectation and encounter. And this community, of which we are part, gathered with Mary the Mother of Jesus, waits in real time for the promise to be fulfilled and we stay, we are faithful, we have ‘stabilitas’.
This is something about which St Benedict writes
When he [the new member] is to be received, he comes before the whole community… and promises stability. (The Rule of St. Benedict (Rule 58))
St Benedict in thinking about how good community is established is concerned for the notion of community stability, or in Latin, stabilitas loci. In a time when the pressure is to move on, in our job, in our housing, in our attitudes, in how we live the reminder that we also need stabilitas loci is an important one. Things do move on but we have to know how to balance that with the concept of stability, of staying in the place. The church is a visual sign of stabilitas loci and perhaps we need to be living signs of it to.
may I have the courage
and not always
to rush on
to the next thing
the next place
the next person
but to wait