They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry Jesus’ 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). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
St Ignatius practiced the reading of scripture prayerfully, dwelling on each word and phrase and simply sitting with it for a while before reading it again; allowing the Holy Spirit to prompt and reveal new appreciation of the words and phrases for all.
It wasn’t until reading this passage for today in this way that I was struck by people. People passing by, people bringing Jesus, people casting lots, people alongside, people in official positions. We often see the crucifixion visually expressed as three solitary crosses “on a green hill far away”. But there were people and lots of them. I wonder about them. Those who were active in moving the action along; manhandling Jesus and his possessions, carrying out familiar orders at the bidding of others.
I wonder about those people simply passing by; passing in their everyday life like such a horrific scene was normal, usual and maybe even acceptable. I wonder about those in authority; ridding themselves of a threat, a nuisance and a risk.
As we turn the corner towards the Cross, sharing in the final days of Jesus I hope and pray that we might find that people committing acts of horror in our world may be awakened to injustice and suffering one pair of hands at a time.
As we who are free from persecution, and blessed by so much, consider the scene and the people, may we not be people who pass by. Used to the horror we see on screens and in papers and blind to the ways we can make a difference one pair of hands at a time.
As we face the darkness of that day let us join as one voice in prayer for those whose authority today brings darkness to others this day.
We know with hindsight that a joyous time will come for Jesus and his followers but for today there is no final hymn of praise to send us out simply a call to consider, reflect and remember the people. Let us be God’s people together.
Lord, we are your people. Challenged to follow your instructions to love neighbour as self and you with all our passion, prayer and intellect. May we find space in today, on our journey to the cross, to consider how we are your people in the world. Prompt us, inspire us and guide us to appreciate the uncertainty and bleakness of today. Do so that we may reach those around us who face bleak times. But Lord, instil deep within us that eternal hope you bring for we are your people this day and everyday. Amen
The Rev’d Carol Marsden is a URC minister in the South Lakes.