Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Strength of Simon of Cyre'ne

On April 10th, Good Friday, I walked The Stations of the Cross in the impoverished neighborhood of Kensington in North-East Philadelphia. From street corners through parks to empty lots and a baseball field, I walked and listened and stared as I watched Jesus taking His final steps to the Cross.

In the fifth station a man named Simon of Cyre'ne is asked, compelled, or forced to carry Jesus' cross to Gol'gotha (Matt. 27:32). It was at this station, standing in the middle of Joseph Conrad Park, that I was overcome with the weight of a burden - a heaviness that I could neither specify nor disregard. A rush of fear overwhelmed me as I questioned if I too might have to carry the Cross for a leg of the journey. My legs were weak as leaned against the fence in the middle of the park. All that came to me was fear and apprehension as I did not feel fit for the task.

To carry the Cross! Is there any burden heavier than this? Is there any other burden at all? How frightening a thought! How appropriate to tremble in fear at the call to carry the Cross (Luke 14:27)!

And yet, for the person who knows God's Love, there is a strange appeal in the notion of carrying the Cross. There is a beguiling understanding in the depths of one's heart that, no matter how odd and upside-down, the burden of the Cross must be so! For the Cross is not the end, but rather the beginning. The Cross is the very instrument through which redemption is made possible. Jesus' Way is the only Way. The Way of the Cross is the only Way that leads to the Life.

Therefore, the Cross becomes not the heavy burden that crushes a person unto death, but the light load that brings purpose and joy. Jesus said, "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:30). Surely this is more than a satirical quip! A yoke, of course, involves two persons together sharing a load. Jesus is not offering a "pie in the sky" life of luxury, but rather a kinship of suffering.

In his Gospel of Sufferings, Soren Kierkegaard writes that, "when the need is greatest, help is nearest ... the greater the suffering the nearer to perfection" (p. 23). Accordingly then, the weight of the Cross is the yoke that brings us side by side with the Perfect One. Further on Kierkegaard writes that whenever one learns from suffering "then it is always something about himself and about his relation to God" (p. 57). If this be the case, then the burden of the Cross is not only the means by which we share with Jesus, but also the same way that we come to know ourselves as Children of God. For Christ also suffered in order that He learn through obedience (Heb. 5:8) and become Perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10).

To carry the Cross! Is there any burden lighter than this? Is there any other burden at all? How appropriate it is to rejoice at the opportunity to learn the Way of the Cross in order to become yoked with the Perfect One!

And so I stood in the center of Joseph Conrad Park, afraid to take the next step, afraid of the burden of the Cross. The fear is real. It is what gives the burden weight. The self-love is real. It is what gives the Cross Its cost. But it is Jesus' Way. And Jesus' Way is the only Way. So I moved along to the rest of the Stations filled with this heavy reality. And truthfully, I still felt a disconnect from the burden; as if there was no way that I could possibly carry the Cross.

However, later that same afternoon I attended a Peace rally outside Collissimo's Gun Shop on Spring Garden St. Upon my arrival I was asked to help hold a gigantic sign that read: ACT NOW TO END GUN VIOLENCE. As we unrolled the colossal sign I was amazed at its size, it must have been over 50 ft long. But the real shock came when we picked up the dense, canvas piece of propaganda. It was much heavier than I had imagined. Nonetheless, four others and I managed to display the sign adequately for the next 45 minutes.

During the rally I gazed over my shoulder at the wooden cross standing tallest among the banners on the stage. While I stared at this symbol - with all of Its weight - I also felt the fatigue in my own arms, shoulders, legs, and back as I held the sign. It sometimes happens in a moment: when the clearest of messages seems to occur and then disappears only leaving that which you know to be True.

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