Monday, April 6, 2009


Passion week is a good time to think about crosses. Sunday morning, a special choir presentation touched on the story of Simon from Cyrene – the man who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross on the way to Golgotha. The narrator asked, “What would you have done?” My first thought was, could Simon have done any differently? A noisy mob of those mocking and those mourning the events emerging before their eyes. A Roman centurion (or two) giving him an order. Jesus struggling under his enormous physical, mental, and spiritual burden. Add it all together and Simon doesn’t really have a choice.

But apart from that, I had a second thought. This *is* what I do. Because even though I know Jesus’ invitation is to “pick up your cross and follow me,” it occurs to me that our walk might actually be a reenactment of what Simon did that day. After all, the cross we carry comes from Jesus. We carry the burden just for a while, walking with Jesus the whole way. And when we reach our destination, he takes back the cross and pays the price. It’s an encounter we never forget. It leaves a mark on a heart and life forever.

Do we really have a choice? I don’t think I do. After encountering the love of God, I cannot help but love and serve in return. Like PB or Ferrante would say, “I have been apprehended by something that will not let me go.” Like Isaiah, I can only answer, “Here am I, send me.” Like Martin Luther, even when the tide is flowing the other way I have to declare, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” While there is always a choice, there are also some things that are too strong to fight against.

The cross we carry comes from Jesus. He promises that he’ll never give us more than we can handle, that his yoke is easy, and that his burden is light. But it comes from him all the same. (Bonus tangent: Whose cross is it anyway? The wages is sin is death, so it’s ours. But Jesus chose to be our substitute, so it’s his. But he asks us to pick it up and follow him, so it’s ours. But then we lay it all at his feet when we get there, so it’s his…)

We only carry the cross for a while, but it leaves a mark. I wonder how Simon felt in the moments after his task was complete. Baffled? Relieved? Tired? …changed.

That’s where my thoughts led back to during the presentation yesterday morning. There’s a poignant moment in the Passion movie when something changes in Simon of Cyrene’s eyes. His look changes from “Who is this guy?... Why am I doing this?... When will I be done and away from this situation?” to something else: compassion, solidarity, determination to help Jesus make it through. After that moment, it’s not just Jesus’ burden anymore. Simon takes ownership, shifts the weight of the cross to be more fully on his back, and physically helps Jesus to make it all the way to Golgotha.

So, “What would I have done?” How would I treat the cross? More accurately, how do I? Is it still just Jesus’ burden that I am being forced to carry for a while? Or am I embracing the detour, shouldering the weight, and walking step for step with the man who has already paid it all?

It’s a new spin on a familiar thought. “Take up your cross and follow me.”

P.S. - I did a quick search on Simon to see if we know anything about what happened after that day. I found one tiny hint:

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. (Mark 15:21)
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. (Romans 16:13)

If this is the same Rufus, we can imagine that Simon passed his experience with Jesus on to his family. I wonder how much of their father’s task Alexander and Rufus witnessed. Did they follow the crowd as their father was taken away under guard? Did they wait anxiously for him to return? However their day started, it seems that after that day they became a part of the emerging Christian community. After all, since the gospel of Mark was directed to the Romans, and they are mentioned by name, it isn’t a far stretch to assume they had become a valuable part of the church. It’s the sons that are called out in the story in Mark, and Rufus specifically in Romans. You know how that goes: “They made Simon carry his cross. Simon, you know. Alex and Ruf’s dad.” (I don’t know what kind of nickname you would give to Rufus. Maybe Alex liked to go by Xander…but you get the picture.) They were part of the church. Their Dad’s encounter was just the beginning of a much longer walk.

And as a second “so what?” thought -- When it really boils down to it, I think that’s what being part of the church is all about: Being a community. Having other mothers. Sharing the stories of our Jesus encounters. Walking the path with him and with each other. Collectively carrying his burdens as if they are our own. I know we all have our own burdens to bear, but perhaps just as Simon helped Jesus for a while…we can also help each other. (After all, whose cross is it anyway?)

The pictures are from a Taize service I attended last Wednesday.

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