This year, for a choral evensong service on Passion Sunday, the Trinity Cathedral choir and organ performed a musical setting of Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross) by Franz Liszt. One piece stood out to me: the fifth station, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross. I thought about what it must mean to carry Jesus’ cross.
Cyrene was a city in eastern Libya, an area of North Africa that had become a Roman colony. How did Simon happen to be on a Jerusalem street just as the prisoner and soldiers were on their way to Golgotha? Was Simon drawn to the scene by the crowd that had gathered? Was he a secret follower of Jesus who wanted to witness what was happening to him?
He was probably a person of color. He may have been Jewish. Cyrene had a sizable Jewish population, some of whom came to Jerusalem once a year for Passover.
All three synoptic gospels tell the story. Simon was a passer-by at the scene, coming into Jerusalem “from the country” when he was compelled by the soldiers to carry Jesus’ cross. Jesus previously had been beaten, may have been bleeding, had fallen once, and was probably very weak. We don’t know how long he carried the cross, probably all the way to Golgotha. Scripture makes no mention of Simon of Cyrene after the crucifixion. According to tradition, he went to Egypt to spread the Gospel and was martyred in 100 CE by being cut in half with a saw.
Earlier in Luke’s account of Jesus’ life, Jesus foretells of his crucifixion and resurrection in conversation with his disciples. Then he says, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
What does it mean to “take up one’s cross daily?” Jesus gives us a pretty good idea in a parable he told his followers in Matthew 25. When the righteous asked the king, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when were you a stranger that we welcomed in, or naked and we clothed you? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’
The king answered them, “Just as you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”
We are the hands and feet of Christ in the world (or, in Simon’s case, possibly the shoulders). We shoulder the cross when we volunteer in a food bank or homeless shelter, visit someone in prison, sit at the bedside of a family member who has not always treated us kindly, listen compassionately to a friend talk about abuse even as it resurrects painful memories of our own, speak out in a public meeting about an injustice that has happened in our community.
The cross is the symbol of our faith, which suggests that taking up the cross also means, as Peter said in his first epistle, to “Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to anyone who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you.” (1 Pet. 3:15-16).
In other words, we take up Jesus’ cross when we self-sacrificially become Christ to others, in word and deed.
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the Cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
2 thoughts on “Taking Up the Cross”
And inspired post! Thank you, Steve for your service to Cornerstone and to the wider community.
Thank you for including me in your posts. We here in Salt Lake remembered Good Friday with a very moving service at our Cathedral. I’m at the point each year when I feel sad and yet hopeful. Have a lovely Easter Sunday!