Description – The first sermon of my 2005 Lenten series.
(Opening of the sermon is the dramatic reading script “The Cross Carrier” by Elaine Aadland for the Lenten Series, “Watchers on the Hill,” produced by Creative Communications for the Parish © 2003)
What is the most unpleasant task you have ever been ordered to do?
The property manager at an apartment complex where Susan and I once lived (and I worked part-time) ordered me to remove the possessions of tenants who had been evicted. It was a very unpleasant experience. One that I felt terrible about doing.
This happened not once but twice. The first time the tenant was not home. The second time the tenants, two college students, were home as the staff was ordered to start taking their possessions out to the dumpster. (Fortunately, some cooler heads prevailed and the possession were place in another location and taken safely away.) They had reached the end of their grace period. There was now no grace in the matter. The law had taken over.
The same held true for Simon. There was no grace when at the point of the spear Simon was ordered, compelled, to take the cross that Jesus struggled to drag after a horrific beating who was among people who both spat on Him and grieved for Him. He had no choice in the matter. The Law (the powers that be) said, “You will carry this cross.”
Our text, on which this imaginative script has been based, also tells us that Simon was from another location; another part of the world; a city called Cyrene. Cyrene was a city located on the coast of Northern Africa in what is now Libya. So, Simon was an outsider and maybe he was picked because his skins was a shade darker that the others or maybe because he was a well dressed or at least, decently dressed person that made him stand out from the crowd.
Some Biblical commentators suggest that Simon was coming home to Jerusalem after a journey even though his hometown was elsewhere. We really don’t know for sure the dynamics behind the statement that he was “coming in from the country” but we do know that he was compelled to carry the cross of Christ.
Here is a businessperson, (“I’m just in town on business,” he says) a trader perhaps, and definitely an outsider, (“you don’t look like you’re from around here”) drawn in by force, by law to do something that he certainly did not want to do.
We cannot relate to Simon as someone who helped a man to his execution. It would be like you or me being a part of the procession to the electric chair or the room that had the table, the straps, and… the needle. Or, being the one who strapped the convicted and sentenced one into the chair or put the needle in the arm. We cannot relate to Simon in that manner.
Yet maybe we can relate to Simon. In Matthew 16 verses 24 through 26 Jesus tells the Disciples that to follow Him truly they must, “Put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.”
Now Simon certainly had no selfish ambition in carrying Jesus’ cross. It was the last thing that he wanted to do that day. He had other plans, he had his own agenda, he was minding his own business, he was set on checking off his to-do list, he was going to the temple to prepare for Passover. He was…. Then again, Simon did have some personal ambitions that crossing (no pun intended) Jesus’ path interrupted. Simon did shoulder a cross, but not just any cross, he shouldered the cross of our redeemer, our savior and he followed Jesus to His death.
The disciples, I have no doubt, knew what “shouldering the cross” meant because crucifixion was a public execution, held in the open, in some cases I have read, along the roads that people traveled. Probably the closest thing to our time and place were the public hangings that took place just over 100 years ago that, according to some historical accounts, were treated as an event that you brought your family to watch. They knew that when someone was carrying a cross it meant death. The law had spoken, no more grace.
The old hymn reminds us of this truth, “Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free? No there’s a cross for everyone and there’s a cross for me.”
The cross was (and is) an ugly thing. We polish them up for church. They are nice, smooth, and varnished. Or they are gold plated or even made out of gold. Not the cross that Simon carried.
This cross was rough and full of splinters. It was a harsh instrument of the state. It was an instrument of death.
But from God’s perspective and because of His love, the cross became an instrument of life and of grace not law. Paul says it very well in Romans 3: “But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight-not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.”
That cross which Simon carried on his back for the savior of the world became an instrument of life, of grace, of hope, of salvation, of forgiveness. That heavy and rough piece of lumber that ripped human flesh was to symbolize the healing of the human race from the pain and the awfulness of sin.
The prophet Isaiah says it very well, “He was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped and we were healed!”
I believe that our imaginative script this morning contains some historical accuracy to it – Simon was overwhelmed with emotions – fear, anxiety, grief, and just plain numbness at the awfulness of it all. Nor could he forget what took place that day. Nor did God want him to forget. “Why on earth do you say that Jim? I would certainly want to forget something like this! How awful a thing to remember!”
We do forget and we need to remember that awful day and time because we forget what that day really means for us. We forget all too often. We forget by our choices and our priorities that put us first and God second, even third. We forget by our lifestyles and our attitudes toward life itself, toward other human beings, toward God in which disrespect, hate, resentment, jealousy are the norm instead of the exception.
We cannot afford to be a cross watcher any more than we can afford to be a Sunday Christian. We must be cross carriers, cross bearers, every day not just Sundays. (Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free? No! There’s a cross for everyone and there’s a cross for me.)
Simon would never be the same after his experience. It changed him (for the better we hope) just as our experience with the Savior who hung on that cross must change us – daily – so the world will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a God who loves us so much, in spite of our failures and flaws.
I conclude with a question, “If you would have been compelled, like Simon, to carry Jesus’ cross, what would you have done?” The Law would have made you say “yes.” What do you think that Grace and Love would have made you say? Amen.