Ascension—the day we commemorate Jesus’ returning to Heaven—was on Thursday, though many churches will celebrate it today. The lectionary passages for Ascension focus on royal imagery—God the king (Ps 47), Christ the king (Eph 1)—and on the stories from Luke and Acts of Jesus commissioning the Apostles.
Before he leaves them, Jesus opens their minds to understand the Scriptures, so that they see for themselves that he had to suffer and die and be raised from the dead.
My favorite part of these ascension stories is this little detail Luke includes: that Jesus led the disciples “as far as Bethany.” It is there, in this town where his beloved friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus live, that he blesses those who follow him and is carried into Heaven.
I love that Jesus returns one last time to the home of these friends, that he chooses to be with the woman who proclaimed him Messiah (John 11:27) and the woman who understood that He was going to Jerusalem that last week to die and so anointed him for his burial (John 12:3-7).
Though his disciples did not understand these things, Jesus’ friends at Bethany did. They recognized who he was and what he was about—perhaps only fleetingly and only partially, but enough to speak and act on what they knew.
I find this reassuring. My faith is not strong and constant, not nearly as strong and constant as I wish it were. But there are moments when I can proclaim with Martha, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God,” and moments when, like Mary, I know I will pour out all I am and all I have for Him.
And then there is the rest of the time, when I am not certain, when I doubt, as Martha did (John 11:39), when I reprimand and accuse, as Mary did (John 11:32).
But despite their frailty, their myopia, their doubt, Jesus blessed them, as He blessed His apostles, as He blesses me.
The lectionary passages for Ascension: