Yesterday was Good Friday (”good’ as in holy), a significant day for many as Christ is said to have been crucified on a Friday. Why it is a statutory (legal) holiday in a secular country puzzles me. I raised the topic with several people throughout the day and its meaning was unclear to most of them, other than that it had to do with Easter and that for some it was a paid day off work.
In the morning two of us trained on the steep hills of Mt. Tolmie and first noticed a cluster of Philippine women waiting in the parking lot and then a mixed gathering with a huge wooden cross forming a procession. Ah! They’d come to walk the Stations of the Cross — a custom going back to 16th century Europe when Franciscan monks began to erect 14 stations inside and near churches to help the faithful to make a pilgrimage of prayer upon Christ’s sufferings and death.
Recalling that during my European walking tours I frequently sought refuge in village churches, I mentioned that I’d been touched by depictions of the fifth station, where Simon takes up Christ’s cross. There was something in that gesture, of coming forward amid the jeering crowd and saying, “Hey, let me give you hand.” It spoke to me of compassion, literally the ‘suffering with’ another person.
This morning I checked to see how Simon the Cyrene came to play his part. The chroniclers Matthew and Mark both use the phrase “pressed into service”, while Luke says that someone “made him carry the cross.” Okay, so Simon wasn’t anyone special. He was just one of hundreds lining the path leading up Mt. Calvary to the place of execution. Regardless of whether he volunteered or was recruited, he probably exchanged a word and certainly a gesture with the condemned. For a brief moment, both men were linked in passio, in suffering. One taking up another’s strain.
In doing so, his life may have taken a turn — who knows. Simon’s act represents the times any of us might be “pressed into service.” Opportunities abound to step outside our zone of comfort and offer a touch, a word, a moment’s silent attention. Perhaps today …
image: Simon the Cyrene helps Jesus bear his cross, #5 in ’14 stations of the cross’ series by Laura James (2002).