Bethany: the place of welcome and friends

‘Welcome, Nicky.  Welcome, welcome, welcome!’ said Azman. 

Moving from the hallway to the living room, Elaine came forward with the biggest smile on her face and said,

‘Nicky you are so welcome.’ 

It’s funny when we reflect on things in life, how it can be a momentary phrase that changes our lives forever.  I’d never been to their home before, and yet they welcomed me profoundly.  Both of them searching me out on separate occasions throughout the evening, and said the same thing to me,

‘Nicky, we are so happy you are here, so pleased.  You are so welcome. So welcome. We are really glad you are here. Thank you for coming.’

Elaine and Azman are married.  They are leaders in Journey Church in County Antrim, and to me they are a couple that personify the word welcome.  It is their fragrance.  An uncanny ability to make the person in front of them feel so seen, that it changes everything. 

The way they welcomed me with a cadence of kindness, on that Spring evening awash with the colour of daffodils a decade ago, left me forever changed.  This was a time when I didn’t even feel welcome in my own life.  To receive such warmth from Elaine and Azman was solace to my dry, weary soul.  It was a gift of nourishment, which opened a new season of life for me.

This week I read Mark 11, and a new way of thinking about the text opened.

‘Then Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.’ Mark 11.11

There’s nothing really that profound about this verse, in fact I have skipped over it for years without a second thought.  Not this time! I’d been having a chat with Rev. Talisker, who has been one of my dearest friends for over two decades, and she mentioned that the word ‘Bethany’ means ‘place of welcome’.

Her insight puts a whole new spin on the words in this passage.  Welcome holds us.  Lets us be seen. Welcome is not only words, but also an atmosphere of heaven on earth.  It offers us restoration. 

Jesus needed his friends.  He needed a place of welcome.  And that’s just where and what Bethany was. Here in a place that means welcome, and filled with his friends, Jesus was welcome.

As I consider the brutality of the week ahead for Jesus, I think about Jesus tending to his own needs.  Going to both people and a place offering him nourishment. It feels profound.

To think of Jesus needing things, reveals his humanity.  It reminds me of the global human need for friendship and welcome. Our need to be seen.  Of my personal need to be seen.  Jesus’ need makes me, and I hope you too, feel a little less alone. This Holy Week, may you be held and nurtured in the embrace of welcome by your friends.

Nicky Cahill