Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross

March 16, 2017 Comments Off on Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross

Artists: Jacqui Taylor Basker and Ihsan Bandak

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” These famous words from Matthew 16:24-25 have become a kind of summary in the gospel. Jesus utters them in the gospel of John to a wide audience of followers, before the reality of Jesus’ own crucifixion has become clear to them.

It seems natural to think of this verse in connection to the fifth station of the cross: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross. Yet there a few important differences. First, this is not a matter of everyone taking up the cross; the burden in this scene is Simon’s to carry alone. Second, Simon is not carrying his own cross. He is carrying the cross of Jesus, which begs the question of whether Simon agreed to do this in the first place. Was this an act of charity? Of compulsion? The narratives in the synoptic gospels don’t give us these specifics.

There is a huge difference between taking up your own cross and taking on the cross of another. This is a central concern in the work of womanist theologian Delores Williams. In her book Sisters in the Wilderness, Williams highlights the dangerous implications embedded in our beliefs about the crucifixion of Jesus. If Jesus’ salvation operates through his suffering on the cross, what does that say about suffering? Do we run the risk of glorifying suffering when we celebrate the death of Jesus? And most importantly, what does this mean when certain people are made to bear sufferings in society more than others? For Williams, the weight of this burden falls most heavily on women of color, the perpetual surrogate mothers of American history.

Lent is a time when many Christians respond to Jesus’ exhortation to “take up your cross and follow me” with embodied action—giving up a beloved food, or taking on a practice that may seem initially like a burden. As we take on these extra burdens, I hope that we will remember those people who are carrying a heavy load this season, and not by choice. I hope we will remember the mother who stays late at work to pay for her apartment in a neighborhood where rents are steadily rising. I hope we will remember the refugees who have “given up” their homes because of the threat of violence.

For Delores Williams, the most important thing about Jesus’ life was not his death and suffering—it was his life. The same thing ought to be true for all of us as we take up our crosses during this season of Lent. Too often we fixate on stage of losing our lives and forget that the purpose of the cross is to find life. May we look for life this season, not only for ourselves but also for everyone who is carrying a heavy burden.

– Heidi Thorsen Oxford

The Third Station: The Cross is Laid on Simon of Cyrene

March 5, 2015 Comments Off on The Third Station: The Cross is Laid on Simon of Cyrene

Artist, Simon Carr Photography by Cristina Balloffet Carr

Artist, Simon Carr
Photography by Cristina Balloffet Carr

And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. (Mark 15:21)

It is no secret that Mark is my favorite of the Gospels. Short, pragmatic, and dramatic, it gets right to the point.  Mark is honest and raw.  Personally, I love a Gospel that end with the witnesses to the resurrection being terrified and telling no one.  There is something so human and so in need of God about this telling of the life of Christ.  His depiction of Simon of Cyrene is no exception.  There is exactly one sentence.

From the text, we glean that Simon of Cyrene was not a loyal follower. He is not depicted as a worshipper of Christ. He appears to just be the victim of fate. Not much more than a random guy traveling in from another country, Simon was pressganged by the Roman soldiers into the humiliating act of caring a cross for a criminal.

Let’s stop for a moment to imagine what Simon might have felt. No doubt he was surprised in being singled out by the soldiers. You can almost hear his laments of “why me?”  Likewise, I am sure he was not too happy to be linked by fate and the cross to this Jesus fellow; a criminal condemned both by Roman and Jewish authorities. He was no doubt embarrassed to be publically humiliated like this. He was at the very least irked to be held up and delayed.

Yet this little snippet is all we hear about Simon. We are left with more questions that answers. Was Simon changed by his encounter with Christ?  Did he know who Christ really was? Did he stay for the grisly execution or did he get off that hill as soon as possible? Did he go on to other countries and other business or did he stick around Jerusalem for that eventful Sunday morning? We will never know.

And what about the sons of Simon, Alexander and Rufus?  Why does Mark include them in this text when so many others are not named? Were they present?  Or maybe they became followers and leaders in the early church?  Again, we may never know.

This story is not tidy or happy. It does however present a realistic depiction of suffering. Simon’s experience mirrors many of our own experiences. How do we handle the unexpected pain and suffering that comes to us in life? How do we carry our own cross and help with the crosses of other people when to do so if difficult and confusing.  I don’t have reason to believe that Simon was proud of this moment or that it was a time of particular importance or spiritual clarity. I think it was exhausting humiliation.  However, that exhausting humiliation played an important role not just in death but also in resurrection.

-The Rev. Emily Phillips Lloyd

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