In the Place of Simon the Cyrenian

Welcome to the first week of Easter.

Last week we experienced the most profound story in human history. We sat with Jesus and the apostles at the last supper. We watched Jesus walk His passion. We wept with the wailing women and we stood at the foot of the cross with Mary and the beloved John as we heard Christ say, “It is finished” and bow His head and give up His spirit (John 19:30).

We mourned the death of Jesus as He was laid in the tomb, and we then rejoiced with Mary Magdalene and ran to the empty tomb with Peter and John. Rejoice, our Lord is risen! Our debt has been paid, alleluia!

Now what?

I am always struck by the profound beauty of the Church’s liturgies during Holy Week. As we remember the Paschal mystery of our Lord my heart is stirred and I am moved at my core. When the Son rises on Easter Sunday I rejoice and am glad. But then I wonder, what is next, where do I go from here?

On Good Friday as I watched the Passion of the Christ, the character of Simon the Cyrene, for the first time struck me in his importance. Up until then I had always passed Simon off as a supporting character, an unfortunate bystander pressed into service, but nothing more. Yet as I reflected on the Passion this year I realized that I am Simon. We are Simon.

Every time we pray the Stations of the Cross, we are Simon. We are walking the Passion with our Lord. Simon experienced the Passion of our Lord in the most intimate way, in immediate proximity to Jesus. He was with Jesus during his last hours. He looked into the bruised and bloody face of Jesus only inches away from his own. When we celebrate the liturgies of Holy Week we too are walking with Christ intimately, and this walk transforms us.

I wonder what happened to Simon after he finished helping carry the cross. Atop Calvary, Christ and the Cross had reached their destination, Simon’s service was no longer needed. Did he run away, or did he stay and watch? We do not have any explicit biblical description of what happened to Simon after helping carry the cross, but I assure you, that experience transformed Simon. Imagine what he must have been thinking as he was pressed to carry the cross. He must have wondered who this condemned man was. Why did he have a crown of thorns? Why was was his body so scourged before he was to be crucified? Why are some weeping and others are jeering? Had Simon heard of Jesus through stories before he helped carry the cross? He must have been confused and pondered what was happening. What must have transpired when he looked into the eyes of the Son of God so closely?

How could Simon not be transformed by carrying the cross, weighed down by our sins, alongside our savior Jesus? How can you experience so closely the suffering of our Lord and not be changed? That experience would have stuck with Simon for a very long time. While we do not know exactly what happened to Simon after his experience, we can reflect on ourselves after we experience this same story. After we have witnessed the Passion of our Lord each Holy Week, what do we do next, how are we transformed? When we are faced with the story of the Passion we cannot leave the same, we are changed. The question we must ask ourselves is, will I run or will I stay?

Once we experience Jesus our lives are changed. We cannot help that fact. Yes we can turn away and return to our old life, but that experience will always be calling to us. We cannot shake the nagging story of Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation.

Hope is how we are transformed by Christ. As you reflect upon your own life, do not despair, but hope! If you find yourself like Peter, having denied Jesus, do not despair, Jesus loves you and offers you forgiveness just as he did to Peter. Or perhaps you find yourself more like John the Apostle at the foot of the cross, rejoice in your closeness to the Lord and hope in his resurrection! Perhaps you are Simon the Cyrenian, you have experienced the Passion, you are changed, but you do not understand what it all means. Embrace the uncertainty, trust in the Lord and let your life be transformed.

In the Gospel of Mark, we are given the name of Simon the Cyrene as well as his two sons, Alexander and Rufus. This begs the question, how would Mark know the names of Simon and his family? This is strong evidence that after the crucifixion Simon the Cyrene and his family became followers of Christ and were known by the apostles and other members of the early Church, so much so that it would be important enough for Mark to use their names in his account of the Gospel that was written circa 70 AD.

So, now what? Just as we do not have a written account of Simon the Cyrenian’s life after his experience with Jesus, your story is not yet written either. Today we are living in the glory of the resurrection. You have witnessed the Passion of the Lord and you know the end, Jesus is risen! Jesus suffered the Passion for you. In his resurrection we are freed from sin and death. Let your life be transformed, and as we walk away from Calvary, as Simon the Cyrenian did, let us continue to walk with the Lord. Where where you walk?