This morning feels a bit like whiplash. We enter into the bright morning crying "Hosanna in the Highest" only to find ourselves half way through the service crying and beating our breasts with grief.
The Passion Narrative takes us through the trial of Jesus as the awful events unfold. It is a familiar story to us. Yet it is always painful as we reenact the betrayal of Jesus, the mob mentality, the complicity of Pilate to cave to the crowd (even as both he and Herod found nothing in Jesus worthy of the death sentence) and finally the withdrawal of the apostles. The utter abandonment. It is unfathomable. Where is the sympathy and compassion that Jesus held out to so many? It is a complex story with many facets and many characters. But there is one character, seemingly a stranger, I want to focus on:
Who is Simon?
Simon is mentioned in Mark, Matthew, and Luke.
Simon is employed to carry the cross for Jesus when Jesus is perhaps at the frailest expression of his humanity.
But by the time this Gospel story is shared, its original audience, and we, know that Simon also carried the cross for our risen Christ.
Simon both carries the cross to help a particular human Jesus…
And Simon carries the cross following behind the Christ, in its cosmic scope:
He carries the cross for God and for all of humanity.
Simon is yanked into the now: Into the particular horrific suffering of the crucifixion…But we know this burden is also his privileged participation in God’s unending story of resurrection.
Simon arrives late into the city for the Passover festivities.
And he was not at the last supper. We don’t know whether he was a follower of Jesus when he arrived in the city.
Mark’s Gospel tells us he was the father of Rufus and Alexander well-known to the Christian community, leaders by that date… (probably about 40 years after the crucifixion).
Did Rufus and Alexander become followers as children because of Simon?
Was Simon converted to a follower by carrying the cross for Jesus?
Was his family converted?
All we know is that on that day he entered into Jesus' human suffering… Suffering at the hands of other humans.
Who is Simon?
We are Simon…
Either through birth or conversion, whether through infant or adult baptism we have been called to carry this love for humanity ...and to not be filled ourselves until this universal sacrificial love is shared with everyone.
Simon doesn't ask for this. Simon is drawn in by the divisive and unjust worldly powers (manifested in the Roman guards).
Simon shows us active participation in overcoming these worldly powers on behalf of God, for and with God. He reminds us that this burden is also a privilege…
…to act in ways to help one another through each particular suffering.
Doing this requires us to enter into immediate relationship, to meet the human frailty in one another.
Like Simon, we are transformed from observer into participant.
To follow the cross means, we agree to be yanked into the NOW: into relationship when we encounter divisiveness and suffering.
It isn’t always comfortable and we don’t always want it. Our society tells us to protect ourselves and to be tough and independent. But Christianity asks us to be open, communal, to meet the suffering in others.
This past week the horrific school shootings are also the anniversary of another School shooting and teacher’s death. A few years ago in this same season, she went into work on her day off for a quick meeting with other school social workers. A gunman came to the School and shot and killed her.
Her name was Christine. We had never met, but she was very close to a friend of mine; a friend who told me all about her over a series of conversations.
At the funeral the friends and family shared stories of Christine’s generous spirit.
One unique story was from someone Christine had met at her favorite "take out" spot. They stuck up a friendship from that first night when this particular woman was devastated and could not even control her weeping at the restaurant.
Christine didn't know her, but apparently was moved to go to her. The woman had recently been diagnosed with an illness and her husband had walked out on her.
Christine went over, sat down and listened. She entered into relationship with someone she didn't know, and who was obviously suffering.
The woman said at the funeral, by connecting with her at this vulnerable time, Christine literally saved her life.
These healing moments of connection, personal recognition, recollect the miracles of Jesus ministry (his other passion): The miracles that Jesus demonstrated over and over again by engaging with particular people not just some idea or philosophy…
Participating in Resurrection life is a daily undertaking. It isn’t just about going to church, engaging in theological pursuits or working on your prayer life. It is those things, but above all, like Jesus, it is about engaging sympathetically and compassionately with others,
one person at a time, re-collecting us all into the body of God…
Simon reminds us of our call into the now- to bear the burden and the privilege of participating with God - to counteract the divisiveness of our society and unjust world, the indifference, the meanness, the sense of abandonment by engaging the suffering.
We can do this at anytime. It is never too late. We can show up, even late like Simon.
Who is Simon?
We don’t know very much. But I love this character who appears in each of the passion narratives. I love this stranger, because to me Simon represents us at our best.