By Mike Day
Have you ever had one of those weeks? You know the kind where you map out at the beginning what you want to accomplish, but then your best-laid plans are disrupted by surprises. After years of ministry experience, I’ve come to realize that Holy Week almost always ends up being one of those kinds of weeks. I can map out the details of special programs and worship services, but inevitably the weather or some congregational happening will throw me a curve ball and I will have to adapt to a new course for the week.
One of the lesser known biblical characters had one of those weeks on that first Holy Week recorded in the gospels. Simon of Cyrene, as he is recognized in the gospels, was one of the multitudes who traveled to Jerusalem for Passover that year. Along with Jews from across the Mediterranean world, he had come to remember God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt.
Like a college campus on game day in the fall, Jerusalem was busting at the seams as the masses gathered for festival observances. The streets were packed with outsiders moving in and out of markets to the Temple. More than likely, Simon had been there before for the Passover, so he wasn’t surprised by the crowd or the festive activities.
On this day, however, he was intrigued by those gathering alongside the roadway coming from the Roman Governor’s palace. He makes his way through the crowd to see what has captured the attention of all these bystanders. When he gains the position close to the action, he realizes he’s face to face with a man who has been beaten and now struggles to carry a cross beam placed on him by the Roman soldiers. This moment is frozen in time for Simon as he wonders what crime this man must have committed to be treated so harshly.
The man stumbles; the weight of the cross beam on his shoulder pushes him to the ground. Before Simon can step back and become one with the crowd, a Roman soldier grabs him and orders him to pick up the cross beam and carry it for the convicted. No longer is Simon an observer; he’s now thrusted into the middle of a death march carrying the cross for a man he’s never met.
I find it interesting that as Jesus walks to Golgotha where he will be crucified, his cross is now being carried by a stranger, not one of the twelve disciples. Simon had not spent the past three years learning from Jesus or watching his miracles. Simon had not come to Jerusalem this week to encounter a man within minutes of being crucified. Simon’s week had all of a sudden taken an unexpected turn!
In his gospel account, Luke describes Simon now walking behind Jesus, following him as he slowly makes his way up the hill to the Place of the Skull. Recalling Jesus’ earlier words that anyone who wishes to be his disciple must “take up his cross and follow him,” does Luke now portray this man from Cyrene as a disciple of Jesus? Is Luke suggesting that the invitation to discipleship will quickly move outside the small group that had spent the past three years with Jesus?
What we do know is that Simon’s week doesn’t go as expected, and history suggests that his life course was forever changed from his encounter with Jesus. As we move through Holy Week this year, may our plans be disrupted in order to draw us closer to Jesus, who gave his all upon a cross that we may have life.