Holy Week Reflection: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus

Begin your time of meditation with this prayer: We adore you, O Christ and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world. The story of Simon is succinctly told in three of the four Gospels. “They compelled a passer-by to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the Father of Alexander and Rufus”.

Some background. This Simon came from Tripoli in today’s Libya, so maybe was a black man, a convert to Judaism and perhaps making a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Did he become a Christian as a result of his experience? If not why were his name and those of his sons recorded?

When a criminal was condemned, he was made to lead the way to the crucifixion, placed in the centre of a hollow square of Roman soldiers and carrying the crossbeam himself (the upright was already waiting at the place of crucifixion). The longest possible route was taken so that all could see, and be warned.

By this point Jesus was exhausted; he had been up all night, had experienced the anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, had undergone the strain of betrayal, arrest and trials, followed by the physical weakening of beating, whipping and being made to wear a crown of thorns. Now, he staggers and falls. God, who holds the world in his hands, cannot carry his own cross.

The officer in charge must do something, but what? So ‘they seized upon a man called Simon’ who had no option but to obey. Only later would it dawn on him that what seemed his day of shame was in fact his day of glory.

In a world torn apart by racial prejudice and exclusive nationalism we need this reminder that Christ is the Saviour of the world. He once said, ‘I shall draw all people to myself when I am lifted up from the earth’.

He also said, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ We may not want to do that anymore than Simon did, yet without it there can be no true following of Jesus. No one follows Christ under false pretences. At the same time, though, Jesus also says, ‘Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy: and I will give you relief’.

Am I growing in grace daily through my contact with Christ? Might this Holy Week be a turning point for me, as it was for Simon of Cyrene?

A closing prayer, to be read slowly: Lord Jesus, you were worn down by fatigue: be with those from whom life drains all energy. You needed the help of a passing stranger: give us the humility to receive help from others. To you, Jesus, weighed down with exhaustion and in need of help, be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.

– David Shearlock