Jesus was in a procession that we will commemorate on Palm Sunday. At the procession, he was greeted with waving palms and shouts of Hosannas, meaning “Lord save us!” However, throughout the week, the shouts changed to “Crucify him” as they led him away to be crucified.
In the gospel of Luke, a great crowd followed him as in a funeral procession “beating their breasts and wailing for him,” in sorrowful lament for the one who was about to die. While they lamented him, Jesus lamented them and their impending suffering. However, in a stark contrast, Mark’s gospel did not mention a crowd or a procession. In fact, Jesus seemed alone and abandoned until they forced Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross (Mark 15:21-24).
Simon was just a passer-by, unsuspecting and undoubtedly confused when he forced to carry the crossbeam for a criminal. But this was no ordinary criminal. It was Jesus.
I wonder how it felt to Simon of Cyrene to actually bear the cross.
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It’s been several years now, but I remember a Good Friday service where, to start the service, someone processed in carrying a cross made of lightweight wood and hollow inside. Although large, the cross was not heavy. The cross bearer did this twice for the two services that day. When asked a few days later about his experience carrying the cross, he said that carrying it the first time was fine. But carrying it the second time felt very different. It was then he felt the “weight of the cross.” He said his breathing got more ragged, his footsteps seemed louder and slower as the cross he carried seemed to get heavier and heavier.
I imagine for Simon the weight of the cross felt heavier, his footsteps slowed and got louder, his breathing more ragged as they neared Golgotha, also known as “the place of a skull.”. The gravity of the situation probably set in. The long journey from his home to Jerusalem pales in comparison to the walk that day to Golgotha, bearing the cross.
To Simon we owe a debt of gratitude for bearing the cross of Jesus, for following him all the way to Golgotha. He reminded us to meet the challenge and call to bear the cross of Christ as disciples — to feed the hungry, to provide shelter for the homeless, to empower others to find their voice and to be good stewards of the Earth.
Although he carried the cross, Simon didn’t have to bear the weight of the sin of the world. That heavy lifting was placed on Jesus’ shoulder. According to theologian Stanley Hauerwas, “The cross reveals the sin of the world,” our tendency toward violence. But the cross also reveals God’s peaceful and loving response.
From the cross, Jesus demonstrated God’s strength through vulnerability and that love was more powerful than hate. With his resurrection, Jesus demonstrated that life was more powerful than death.
And through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus demonstrated that God still loves the world ... including you.