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On this Day, which we commemorate as the Feast of the Ascension, Jesus took his inner circle out to Bethany — just outside the city walls, the place where Mary and Martha lived. The place where Jesus raised their brother Lazarus from the dead. And here in Bethany, Jesus told them the time had come, and that they should remember and keep telling all the people in Jerusalem and all around the good news that he taught. And then he raised his hands and blessed them. And while he was blessing them, he was carried up into heaven. Gone, disappeared, just like that. Despite his promise to send them “power from on high,” imagine how alone they must have felt.

It is tempting to ignore the story of the Ascension altogether,  but maybe there is another possibility. Maybe this story is trying to point us toward something bigger, toward meaning, toward Truth with a capital T. And this kind of truth is not always an easy thing to tell in the world we live in.

Jesus was a political truth-teller. His teaching and his life were a rebuke to the powers and authorities of the world in which he lived. Tyrants hate facts — hate the truth — because it cannot be controlled and bent to their whim. The tyrant’s only option in the face of facts is outright lies. Tyrants always attempt to twist reality to their own ends.    

Jesus knew all about that. He knew that telling the truth about the way the Roman Empire was oppressing his people would be dangerous. He knew that overturning the money-changing tables in the Temple so he could talk about economic inequality would not endear him to the leadership. But he told those truths anyway.

Today, Jesus teaches a different truth with his ascension. Not just his words, but his actions reveal a new reality waiting to be born. Why did Jesus lead his disciples out to Bethany to say their final good-byes? Jesus chose to spend a lot of time in Bethany. It was always where he stayed when he came to the city of Jerusalem. This is where Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus lived.

Bethany was not a very nice neighbourhood, though. It was outside the city walls, just out of sight of the Temple, in fact. The name Bethany translates to something like “the house of affliction.” It was where the city of Jerusalem sent people who were poor or sick. There was a homeless shelter there, and a leper hospital. Bethany was built out of sight of the Temple so that those coming into the city to worship would not have to see all that ugliness, that poverty and desperation.

And that is precisely where Jesus chose to spend most of his time. These are the people Jesus chose to spend time with. He poured out his life in love for them. And Bethany is the last place on earth Jesus chose to be seen, among the poor and the suffering. 

This is the truth of the Ascension: Jesus was still with his followers, in their hearts and minds and bones.  When the familiar support was gone, and the ground felt unfamiliar, they lived forward in faith, praying, trusting in what they knew, skinning their knees occasionally but eventually riding straighter and farther than anyone could reasonably have imagined.  Jesus went into every place and time, carrying in his heart the cares and concerns of all the poor people of the earth And now he surrounds and infiltrates all times and all places with the beating heart of this truth, sometimes hidden just under the surface, but always there, if you’re willing to face it: the truth that real love costs everything you have, and it’s the only thing that matters.

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