Sunday, April 5, 2015

Simon of Cyrene and the Resurrection

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

We often consider what that first Easter Day must have been like for the various people involved in the Gospel story. We think of the women arriving at the tomb early in the morning to find it empty and running away, confused. We think of St Peter and other disciples dashing through the empty streets of Jerusalem in the weak light of dawn to see for themselves if what the women say is true, and departing, utterly bewildered. We think of Mary Magdalene, weeping in the Garden but not recognising the one she wept for even as she spoke to him until he called her by name. We think of Thomas, refusing to believe that Jesus had appeared to the others when he wasn't there. We think of the men journeying to Emmaus, in conversation with Christ all the way there, but only knowing who he was in the breaking of the bread.

But lately I've been thinking of how another person might have reacted; and that person is Simon of Cyrene. An odd person to think of, you may well imagine. After all, he's only in the Gospels as a passing detail almost, as the one drafted in by the Roman soldiers to help Jesus carry his cross. We hear no more about him than that; and that takes place before the death of Jesus, not after his Resurrection. So how might we have any information to go on to consider what his reaction to the Resurrection might have been, even if we wanted to?

Well, bear with me, and let us see. Perhaps there is than is apparent at first glance.

First there is his name: Simon of Cyrene. Cyrene is a city of North Africa in what is today called Libya. It was a Greek city with a well established Jewish community living there; and Simon is a Jewish name. So it would seem likely that this Simon was a Jew who was in Jerusalem visiting from there for the Passover festival. A pilgrim really, a man who has made the long and arduous journey on foot overland so that he might celebrate the feast remembering the liberation of his people from slavery in Egypt. Now St Luke tells us that he was a passer-by coming in from the country. This means that he wasn't one of those who cheered for Jesus when entered into the city in his triumph; and neither was he was of those who screamed out for his crucifixion to Pilate either. He probably had no idea who Jesus was; he wasn't there like some others to line the street to jeer at him as he staggered by under the cross; neither was he there to weep and mourn like the women of Jerusalem. No, he was just going about his own business, had just arrived on the scene, and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or should that be the right place at the right time?

In any event, that's problably why the Romans picked him: neither jeering nor weeping, he had nothing invested. He wasn't going to kick up a fuss and refuse to help the one he hated; and he wasn't likely to be a supported who might seize on this as an opportunity to help the one he loved escape. No, just a yokel in from the country, gawping at this strange scene; the perfect one to grab so he could help carry the cross.

This, of course, should give us some clues about his age and size. You don't pick someone old or weak looking for an arduous task; and St Mark tells us that he was a married man with children, the father of two sons called Rufus and Alexander; and as men tended to get married at around the age of 30 he was at least that old. So we're talking about a man of most likely between the age of 30 and 40, solidly built and strong-looking, the type of man tough soldiers, realising their victim wasn't going to make it all the way on his own, would pull out of a crowd to help shoulder the load.

How did Simon of Cyrene feel about all this? Did he resent being forced to carry a blood-stained piece of wood, leading the way for a condemned man to his place of execution? And, to go back to the original question, what did he think when he heard stories that he had risen from the dead? We don't know how Simon responded. Not for sure. But we have a clue, a very good one. And it comes in the form of the fact that, despite what I said about knowing little about him, we actually know anything about him at all. How is it that we know the name and the city of a man who was pulled randomly from the crowd by soldiers as he was passing by? How is it that we know he had just come in from the country and that his sons were called Rufus and Alexander? Inded, how is it that we know more about this man than we do many of the Apostles? The little we know actually tells us a great deal. It tells us that even though he knew nothing about Jesus before the moment he was grabbed by the soldiers, he must surely have become involved with his followers afterwards. This is how the evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke know his name, his origins, his business, and details of his family. Something drew him to the Apostles and the other disciples, to speak with them, to tell them of the part he had played – a part that no doubt the women who had not run away like most of the men was able to confirm. And they were awed and honoured to meet the man who had walked with Jesus, who had carried his cross.

But what was it that drew him to them? Was it something he saw or heard on the road of pain and sorrow to Golgotha? His words of comfort to the women of Jerusalem? How he cried to God, forgiving the men who crucified him? Perhaps having come so far, he stayed with the man on the cross and heard him tell the good thief first that today he would be with him in paradise; perhaps he watched him suffer, breath his last, and die; and then heard the centurion, a man who had seen many men die, wondering at how this man had died like no other he had seen, exclaim that this man was truly the Son of God?

Something of that experience must have impressed him deeply; deeply enough that when he started to hear strange stories three days later he believed them. stories that the tomb of the man that he had helped was empty, despite the armed guard of soldiers, and the heavy stone sealing it closed; that his followers were claiming he had risen from the dead and that they had seen him; stories that the authorities seemed unable to refute.

We do not know. But something he saw that day on the Via Dolorosa impressed him enough to make him think the resurrection possible; and belief in the resurrection made him want to be a follower of the man who followed him to the place of the skull that day. And that he became a follower seems in little doubt; in fact the early traditions of the Church tell us that the sons mentioned in the Gospels themselves became missionaries; and we know that his city of Cyrene was an early centre of Christianity.

So, in the end, I think we do know what the reaction of Simon of Cyrene was to the Resurrection. It was the reaction of faith; the reaction of being led by it to becoming a follower of the one who had died and risen from the dead; the reaction of not only becoming a follower himself, but passing on this faith to his children, who no doubt passed it on to theirs. This is the reaction of Simon of Cyrene: that of an awed faith in the Resurrection, a faith that knew no other response than to follow the one who had risen. It is a response that should not surprise us; after all, is it not our own response, to have faith in the one who died for us and rose from the dead and to be his faithful followers? I pray that that is indeed your response, this day and everyday until the day you meet your Lord face to face. Amen

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