We eagerly climbed the steps to the Upper Room—the traditional site of Christ’s last supper. During our short stay in Jerusalem, our group of American students and teachers had seen telltale marks of past wars—but also some encouraging signs of peace and hope in this holy, yet often-bloodied, city. Now we had come to the Upper Room to review the quiet moments the Savior had spent during the last Passover of his life.
Gathered in the large room with its vaulted ceilings and graceful arches, we realized that this wasn’t the actual setting of that sacred event: the building had been constructed on this traditional site by Franciscan monks in the medieval 1300s.
But that didn’t matter. Jesus Christ had celebrated his last Passover in an upper room somewhere in this city, and he did wash his Apostles’ feet, give them the sacrament, and urge them to “love one another.” (John 13:34.) We were worshipping the Son of God and commemorating a very real event. The authenticity of the setting was incidental.
Whenever we stopped at a biblical site, we hoped there would be time and privacy enough to read the applicable scriptures together and sing hymns as a group. In some cases we were undisturbed; in others, another group came behind us and we politely moved on—or moved over. Since time was precious during our visit to the Holy Land, we began to hope for as few intrusions as possible.
After we had gathered in the Upper Room, someone in our group read Christ’s words from the New Testament, and then we all began to sing the song “Love One Another.” As we sang, another group of visitors entered the room, speaking a language other than English. They were led by a bearded priest wearing a long brown robe.
I’ll have to admit that while we sang, I thought more about their intrusion than about the words of the song; because they had come, we would have to leave instead of lingering. And I wondered if they considered our song and our presence as an intrusion into their own brief moments in that room.
We finished and, without a word, began to leave. As I passed the priest, he unexpectedly turned to us. With an accent, he said three short words in English: “God bless you.”
“God bless you.” The words seemed to be more than a common salutation. They were like a prayer—a blessing spoken in kindness by a stranger in a land that has known more intolerance than peace. Perhaps he had been touched by our simple rendition of the Savior’s words. Perhaps he was simply expressing goodwill to a group of fellow worshippers. In either case, his words carried with them the spirit of the Savior’s own words at that Passover meal—words that we had just sung and that I had been too preoccupied to hear.
As I walked back down those steps into the busy city, I hummed the song again to myself—and was thankful for a stranger, a friend, who had gently reminded me of its message.