As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.
We can but speculate as to whether Simon of Cyrene realised, as he embraced the Cross, the significance of the One for whom he carried it. The gospel states that he was “compelled” to undertake the task. As such his involvement in Christ’s Passion was not a conscious choice or decision but by virtue of being in the right place as the need arose (or, perhaps, “wrong place”?). Further, his task was not one bestowed upon him by Christ but by random selection by the Roman soldiers. Nevertheless, centuries later as we mark Holy Week and Jesus’ journey to Calvary, Simon and his cross-carrying are recalled.
Simon’s part in this sacred story is a reminder of the part any of us can play. It is true of all of us that there are many occasions when what is asked of us is less to do with conscious choice and more about “compulsion”. The familiar phrase, within the Eucharistic Prayer, sums it up: “it is our duty and our delight”. We may prefer to be able to choose and to delight in choice but much of the time we are asked to be open to fulfilling duties and responding to what is asked and expected of us. Simon’s testimony is that, by responding to compulsion, he served Christ – literally bearing another’s burden. He may not have wanted to do so; he may even have resented being compelled. He is unlikely to have been among those that had heard Jesus say, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) By contrast we are aware of that call – to deny ourselves and take up the Cross and follow him. In this week when we recall the Cross of Christ, may we, like Simon, use whatever strength we possess to step out from the crowd with a willingness to shoulder other’s burdens and, thereby, follow and partner the crucified.
God, whose way is traced “via Dolorosa”, instil in us a willingness to be compelled to bear the burdens of others that, in so doing, we may more faithfully walk your way with hearts and minds that are open to serving you through the needs of those around us. Grant that we may – today – be Simon for someone struggling with the demands of life. For all carrying heavy burdens today, may others step forward to lighten their load and walk with them. And grant that your Church may be the company of those who carry the Cross and embody the love of the One crucified. Amen.
The Rev’d Geoffrey Clarke, Minister at The Crossing, Worksop and Wales Kiveton Methodist Church