Yesterday people from around the globe celebrated the Feast of the Ascension, the remembrance of Jesus ascending into heaven. Traditionally, the day is commemorated 40 days after Easter. And this year, those 40 days have seemed… well… to last a very long time, to say the least. I thought this a good day to visit the village of Bethany, located on the Eastern slope of the Mount of Olives (also known as Olivet), to the site of the miraculous event.
Prior to the Ascension, Bethany featured prominently in the New Testament. The modern name of the village is al-Eizariya, which refers to the story of Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Jesus. Al-Eizariya is thought to be the home of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha.
Today, you can visit the tomb of Lazarus and imagine the site of him being called to come out, which he did, still wrapped in his burial clothes (as recorded in the Gospel of John). We also know, from scripture, that Bethany was the home of Simon the Leper and was the site of Jesus’ anointing with the jar of expensive nard– also written of in John’s gospel.
Today we focus on the Ascension.
“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” (Luke 24: 50-53)
This short account must have been a powerful site for the disciples. Watching someone rising (or being raised) from the earth and ascending into the clouds would have been an unbelievably awesome and miraculous sign, indeed! While the actual site of the event is unknown, Bethany is inspiring and well worth a visit.
Like many places in the Holy Land, as you walk, you may feel (I felt) that you are walking in the very steps of Jesus and his followers. When I closed my eyes, the biblical scenes I have read and studied came flooding into my mind. That’s one of the most special things about visiting Biblical sites in Israel. It brought the Bible to life and brought me closer to God and an understanding of the word and the world.
When you are in Jerusalem, be sure to make the short trip to Bethany. And, remember this collect from the Book of Common Prayer (The Episcopal Church): Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.