21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”).
I’ll be honest, it hasn’t felt like Holy Week to me. So much of life has been disrupted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that it has been hard to keep track of rhythms, of days, and even seasons. We are left weary from the constant grind of checking in on family, friends, neighbors, church members; sheltering in place, working to maintain some semblance of routine for the children, and the nonstop flood of tragic news of loved ones lost to the virus.
If COVID wasn’t sinister enough, it has partnered with the systemic racism embedded in health care systems allowing the deadly effects of the virus to bear down most viciously on Black communities throughout the U.S.
The cumulative result of this season is a weariness born of grief and loss. The song of ascent in Psalm 121, and its opening refrain, ”where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth”(Ps. 121:1-2) can sound more like a lament than a song sung on the way to worship. Because, that’s what can happen when weighted with burdens that feel too great to bear.
During the crucifixion, as Jesus carried his cross to the place where he would eventually be killed, the Gospels points out that a man, Simon, took Jesus’ cross and helped carry the burden. Simon, an African man from the city of Cyrene, was the one who helped Jesus in his moment of weariness, grief and pain.
In that moment, we are reminded that we don’t have to carry our crosses alone. Jesus didn’t. And neither should we.
This season that is marked by distance, isolation, sickness and death is a burden that we ought not weather by ourselves. Even in the requirements to distance and 6 foot barriers, Simon of Cyrene’s story dropped in the passion of Christ quickly and quietly admonishes us against carrying our burdens by ourselves.
We have seen this beautiful truth lived out as New York City neighbors cheer on the doctors, nurses and medical professionals from the rooftops and balconies of their apartment buildings.
We’ve seen the spirit of Simon of Cyrene in the 400 Memphis seamstresses displaying their own humble grit as they sew new elastic on tens of thousands of N95 masks for local hospitals.
We’ve witnessed it in D.C. as hundreds of volunteers are matched with hundreds of elderly and homebound families to run errands, grocery shop and safely check in on those that are particularly vulnerable. Each example is a generous reminder that we aren’t meant to bear our burdens and pains on our own. Crosses are heavy. Even for a Savior.
As we continue our own walk towards resurrection celebrations, let us ask the Spirit to guide us in answering these questions for us:
1) To whom do I need to be a Simon?
2) Where in my life is a Simon needed?
In other words, who is God asking me to come alongside so I can be a burden-bearer for them and with them? And where in my life is it appropriate for me, following in Jesus’ footsteps, to begin asking for help.
Many of us already carry so many of our communities’ burdens. We are Simons already for families in distress, for neighborhoods under oppression and communities under attack. The crosses we bear can sometimes feel like they are not ours to bear, yet on our shoulders they are placed. To you, Simon might remind that even in the cross-bearing, Jesus remains with us. And Jesus doesn’t just walk with us to Golgatha. But He walks with us through the tomb and to the resurrection that is just ahead.
Rev. Dr. Matthew Watson serves as the pastor for Christ City Church, a young, multiracial congregation located in the heart of Washington, D.C. Matthew is a long time member of CCDA and a part of Cohort 1. In addition to pastoring, he serves as a church planting coach with the V3Movement, focusing on church planting in urban contexts and guiding historic churches looking to return to their community-engagement roots. You can follow him @watsonopolis and @ChristCityDC