The Bystanders: Simon of Cyrene

By Chad Hershberger

This Holy Week and next week, as we observe the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I invite you to join me in being mindful of God’s gifts. We’ll have a series of blog posts that look at the eyewitnesses of the Crucifixion and how the events of this week still have meaning to us today.

In Luke’s gospel (23:26), we encounter Simon of Cyrene, who carried Christ’s cross. Mark (15:21) tell us he was the father of Alexander and Rufus. Tradition tells us these two became missionaries and having their names in scripture might indicate they were of some standing in early Christianity.

Jesus was being led to Calvary, just after Pilate sentenced him, when Roman soldiers seized Simon. They gave him the cross to Simon to carry it behind Jesus. This is portrayed as the fifth station of the Stations of the Cross.

Can you picture this scene. Do you remember how Jesus told people to “take up their cross and follow him?” Simon literally took Jesus’ cross—the cross that would save him and us.

All of this was taking place during the Passover observance. Passover is one of the major holidays of the Jewish faith. It marks the time when the Lord God “passed over” homes that put blood above their doors, right before the Exodus. In fact, the night before our passage with Simon of Cyrene, Jesus was celebrating the Passover with his disciples.

Jews typically partake in the seder during Passover. The seder is a ritualistic meal they share to remember the Exodus. One year, as a senior high camper at Mount Luther, our group explored Judaism for the week. We learned about Jewish customs and holidays and even did a seder meal.

On our last day at camp, our counselors had us listen to a song by Christian contemporary artist Ray Boltz. It was called “Watch the Lamb.” It described a man and his young sons who went to Jerusalem for the Passover. The man told his boys to “watch the lamb” that was going to be slaughtered as part of the celebration. But in the end, they watched the slaughter or another lamb, the Lamb of God, who died on Calvary. He was asked to carry Jesus’ cross. He was Simon of Cyrene.

Simon was one of the “bystanders” of the crucifixion. If we put ourselves in his shoes, we can be reminded that we, too, are to pick up Christ’s cross and carry it. We are part of this drama. We crucified Jesus because of our sinful nature. But God saves us. Through that cross, we were saved by the blood of the lamb, Jesus Christ. We stand at the foot of the cross and are washed by his blood. We are extended God’s amazing grace.