I want you to imagine that its 2000 years ago and you’ve just arrived in the city of Jerusalem. You’re a Jewish man who has travelled all the way from Cyrene (Northern Africa) with your two young sons. You’re here to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Passover. It’s taken three long weeks of travel to get here. You’re on the trip of a lifetime.
You feel hot, tired from the journey, but glad to finally be here. You can’t wait to explore and see all the places you’ve only heard about. The city is bustling and busy but you can tell people are on edge. You’re not sure what’s going on but can see a crowd moving closer to you. Some people are cheering, some seem really angry, lots of women are crying. There are soldiers all around, and finally, you see a man, around your own age, his body flogged and his gown covered in blood, struggling to carry a heavy cross. It’s a confronting and chaotic scene. As you gather your sons closer to you, one of the soldiers grabs you by the shoulder and demands you help the man to carry his cross. You’re shocked and try to protest. You’re new to the city, you’re with your kids and you really don’t want to be dragged into helping a criminal. Worst of all, if you touch any of that man’s blood, which you’re bound to do, you’ll be ritually unclean for 7 days and miss out on celebrating Passover. But you’ve got no choice. The soldier is holding a spear to your side so you just need to do it.
As you start to help the man, he looks at you. It’s strange, and you can’t explain it, but in that moment you feel peace. As you carry that cross, blood all over your hands, and sweat dripping off your own body, you feel like you’re part of something bigger. You have no idea why, but it feels like this man is helping you- lifting away all your earthly worries and fears. In that moment, which can only be described as grace, you feel like you’ve met your maker and everything will be ok.
Suddenly, the soldiers are yelling at you. They tell you to move on, your job is done. You’ve arrived at the place where the man will be crucified. Your sons look terrified and you feel overwhelmed. You decide to get away from the crowd quickly. You need to figure out what you’re going to do in a new city with your two boys, locked out of the Passover festival you travelled especially to celebrate.
I want you to now imagine that a week has passed since your encounter helping the man with the cross. You’re still in Jerusalem but you feel homesick and your boys are annoyed with you. You had to miss out on the Passover Festival because you carried that cross and were made ritually unclean. Now you’ve got to make a long journey home and face everyone back home with the humiliating story that you travelled 1300kms to Jerusalem and didn’t even share in Passover. What a mess.
But you feel confused. The “word on the street” is that the man you helped was not just an everyday criminal. You’re told that he was “Jesus”- literally the one who saves- and that he’d spent 3 years teaching and healing and performing many miracles to show he was the Son of God. To prove it, he’d done the impossible. Even though he had been killed and was wrapped in a shroud and placed in a tomb, he had risen from the dead and was now appearing to his disciples at various places. His message was that he really was the Son of God, that he had conquered sin and death and wants us to share eternal life with him. Could this be the Messiah that your Jewish faith had promised?
Now I want you to think, if this happened to you, what would you do? Would those few minutes of peace you felt when you helped Jesus that one time give you enough faith to believe? Would that one moment of grace you experienced be enough to give you the strength to investigate the rumours a little more, and try to see this risen Jesus for yourself? Or would you dismiss the stories as being just a bunch of nutters or grieving delusionals- and head home with 2 angry kids in tow, annoyed and frustrated by a pilgrimage gone wrong?
While we don’t know exactly what happened to Simon of Cyrene, Church tradition says that he and his children became followers of Christ. They took a moment of chance encounter with Jesus, and with eyes of faith, decided to find out more and meet this risen Christ. Some link Simon and his sons with the “men of Cyrene” who preached the Gospel to Greeks in Acts 11:20.
I love the story of Simon of Cyrene because it is a story of chance encounter and faith that we can all relate to on different levels. Maybe, like Simon, you’ve found yourself forced into a situation that you didn’t really want to be in. That you’ve had some “cross” imposed on you, through no fault of your own, that’s ruined your plan for how things should have been.
Maybe, like Simon, you’ve had a moment of grace in your life that you can’t seem to forget about- a moment in your life that transcends the everyday and brings you comfort and reassurance of a higher power- something beyond yourself. But when you hear about stories about Jesus, you think they sound a bit crazy or far-fetched, and it’s all too hard to believe. It’s easier to just forget about those moments of grace and go back to the usual routines of life.
At Easter, we remember that Jesus suffered and died and he also did something that seems so crazy and hard to believe. He overcame death and invites us to a new life with him that goes on forever. If you are suffering now, know that Jesus himself carried a cross, even though he didn’t deserve it, and he went through the greatest suffering so that we can have true freedom and eternal life. Jesus is with you right now in this suffering, helping you with your cross. Search for him. Call out his name and ask for his help.
If you are doubting, if you think all the stories sound a bit crazy, our Christian faith tells us this is ok too. The story of Thomas the apostle who had to put his hand into the resurrected Jesus’ wound before he would believe shows us that blind faith can be hard even for those closest for him, that it’s ok to ask questions and seek truth. Seek the counsel of priests and theologians. Ask questions, seek out good websites that can answer your questions. Pray.
Whatever your story, wherever you come from, this Easter, be like Simon of Cyrene. Don’t head home from the long weekend, going back to your usual routines, perhaps a bit grumpy that things are not the way you want. Jesus is truly alive! He wants to meet you!
– Kirrily McDermott