The Ascension always falls on a Thursday, 40 days after Resurrection Sunday. Then 9 days of praying in the Upper Room (1st Novena) and on the 50th day from the Resurrection the Holy Spirit fell on Pentecost. Pentecost means “the fiftieth day.”
One of our past pilgrims wrote to me expressing an apparent contradiction in the Bible about what I had said in Israel. The wording in the two verses below is what caused the confusion.
Acts 1:12 “[After the Ascension] they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.”
Luke 24:50–51 “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven.”
So, did Jesus ascend into heaven from the Mount of Olives or from Bethany?
On pilgrimages, I take my groups to the top of the Mount of Olives to the Church of Pater Noster (the “Our Father”) where Jesus taught his disciples to pray in “the Grotto of the Teaching” — a cave beneath the front of the church. It is here that the oldest traditions inform us that Jesus was raised into heaven. Here Constantine built a church in the early 300’s. Here we celebrate Jesus’ departure and pray the Rosary’s 2nd Glorious Mystery of the Ascension.
There is a Muslim mosque five minute’s walk away (called the Chapel of the Ascension) that most Protestants visit but I don’t patronize Muslim sites and don’t accept this as the authentic place of the Ascension.
No one knows the exact square inches where his feet left the ground. But the Church of Pater Noster has the oldest tradition, is on the Mount of Olives and very near Bethany.
If we had had the time, and there was not the big wall separating Jerusalem from Bethany like it does Jerusalem from Bethlehem, in a few minutes we could walk into Bethany from the top of the Mount of Olives. We used to walk people there to go into the tomb of Lazarus. That is how close Bethany is to the top of the Mount of Olives.
However, I can’t do that with groups anymore because of the big wall that keeps us from walking from the Mount of Olives into Bethany.
Bethany is on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives about 2 miles from Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. At the time of Jesus there was nothing on the Mount of Olives but olive trees (even until the late 1800’s, see picture black and white picture from about 1900). If you left from Jerusalem, heading to the Mount of Olives, it was perceived you were headed to Bethany.
The picture shows that even until the turn of the 20th century there was nothing outside the old walls of Jerusalem. That meant there was just trees and open space between Jerusalem and Bethany. Bethany, though not seen on this map, was on the Eastern slope of the mount.
The other two maps show the proximity of Bethany, the the top of the Mount of Olives and the short distance from the walled city of Jerusalem. Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. He obviously saw no contradiction in referring to both places as the general location of Christ’s ascension.
It is easily explained this way. First, some suggest that he went as far as Bethany to say good-bye to the family he loved – Lazarus, Mary and Martha, then came back to the top of the mount and departed to heaven. However, there is no need to stretch things that far. Being on the eastern slope of the mount, Bethany is virtually on the Mount of Olives, especially from the perspective of Jerusalem.
If someone asks me where I’m from, I always say “Detroit.” But those who have been to my house know I really live 40 miles east of Detroit in Ypsilanti. But since no one knows where Ypsilanti is – I say “Detroit.”
If there is nothing but trees and bare land on the Mount of Olives and you’re heading east from Jerusalem, people would say you are going to Bethany. Jesus left Jerusalem and went over toward Bethany to ascend into heaven.
So if the geography is understood there is no conflict. Scripture can be trusted.
One of my favorite days with rich sites and flavors. The Mount of Beatitudes for Mass is always very special and hard to get people to leave. Then an hour drive to the Lebanese border in northern Israel to see Caesarea Philippi during which our priest tells his vocation story. At “the rock” I give my talk “Peter, the Rock, the Keys and the Chair.”
Lunch at a Druze restaurant before stopping at the Syrian border to overlook a country that has been devastated by radical Muslim groups Isis and the Nursa Front. We discuss the situation in the Middle East.
Then back to the sea to Tabgha where Jesus multiplied loaves and fish and then on to Primacy Of Peter where Jesus appointed him to be the shepherd. The day concludes with dinner at one of the finest restaurants in Israel called Magdalena.
On the first day of school, young Lucy took her seat in science class. The teacher began to explain why there was no God and why she was an atheist. The students all listened carefully. At the end of the class the teacher asked how many of the children wanted to be atheists like her.
Not wanting to contradict the new teacher all the students raised their hands — except Lucy. The teacher said, “Lucy, why didn’t you raise your hand?” Lucy responded, “Because I am not an atheist and never will be. I am a Christian.”
The teacher was perturbed and said, “Why are you a Christian?” Lucy answered, “My mother is intelligent and she is a Christian; my father is very intelligent and he is a Christian — so I am a Christian too.”
The teacher was angry now and asked, “That is ridiculous. If your mother was a moron and your father was a moron, what would you be then?”
Lucy thought for a moment and then said, “I’d probably be an atheist!”
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