Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Fifth Station--Simon Carries Jesus' Cross

"After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his clothes on him. The  they led him out to crucify him They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull)."
           --Mark 15. 20-22

I think the Church has kept the Stations of the Cross through the years because so many Christians have identified with Christ and his cross. The suffering Jesus reminds us of all who suffer. The falling Jesus we know well because falling is part of our nature. Jesus’ encounter with his mother reminds us of the primary relationships in our lives. But this fifth station like some of the others is a mirror, too. Simon, probably a passerby—coming to Jerusalem probably for his first time to celebrate Passover—found himself standing, like so many others in that crowd, wondering what the uproar was all about.

Straining over the heads of others he saw this man they said was named Jesus. He was blood-streaked and weak and kept falling down while trying to carry his heavy beam to his death. Someone had to pick up the cross but no Roman soldier would contaminate himself for any criminal, especially a Jew. So they pulled Simon out of the crowd. Three gospels mention that he was compelled to carry the cross of this condemned man.

So pilgrims through the years have looked up at this rendering of Simon carrying someone else’s cross and seen their faces. For Simon is a symbol of all those forced to carry a cross not their own.

In this long and ragged parade of life most of us are spectators—lookers-on.  George Buttrick said that we all begin life as a passerby. And the tragedy is that many never graduate from this role. But not in this story. We recognize Simon. He’s the one who is drawn quite unintentionally into the hard role of carrying another’s burden. Reckon that Principal at Sandy Hook who stood in front of the shooter and took a bullet trying to protect her students could be called Simon? But usually most of the Simons are really unheralded heroes. The husband who has taken care of his crippled wife for 40 years.  They were married 52 years and most of those years he spent helping, rearranging, doing what he had to do. Messy work. Hard work. Tedious work. Standing by her through 6o surgeries. It’s the parent who tries year after year hoping to help their daughter break through the addiction which is killing them all. To be a Simon is exhausting and unglamorous business.

So Simon really is all those who, forced into circumstances not of their own doing or choosing, just do what has to be done. The strange thing that happened to Simon was that in carrying Jesus’ cross it changed him forever. His sons Alexander and Rufus became leaders in the church later. Surely their father’s influence had something to do with that.

Most of the Simons bear no famous names. They just do the job forced on them. And this is why so many pilgrims have pondered the mystery of the fifth Station. If Simon had to bear Jesus’ cross—cannot we, in some hard place find faithfulness, too.

Albert Schweitzer was right when he said,  “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who He is.” 

(These 14 renderings of the Stations are the work of the African artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya. The artist has fused his training in western techniques and materials with his own heritage, cultural experience and inventiveness that is undeniably African.)

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