Bearing the Cross-A Sermon for Wednesday in Holy Week

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Simon carried the cross, but Jesus was carried by the cross to death.

He was a passerby, this Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Much more we do not know about him but evidently, he was known to the first readers of Mark’s Gospel. What was Simon doing there that Friday morning in Jerusalem? Minding his own business, no doubt. Was he coming into the country to celebrate the Passover or to conduct needed business? Was he there to take in the sights of Jerusalem with his sons this holiday weekend? We are not told. He just happened to be there when a weakened Jesus stumbled toward Golgotha. He was a convenient pick, so the soldiers escorting Jesus selected him out of the crowd of onlookers to take up the cross.

The cross is imposed on Simon. He did not volunteer. Mark says Simon was compelled to carry it. He had no choice. It was inconvenient and, no doubt, more than a little messy. That is the way it is with the cross. It comes to you. The 48 Coptic Christians killed by terrorists’ bombs and the dozen others wounded on Palm Sunday did not choose to bear the cross. It was pressed on them. Luther, in “A Sermon on Cross and Suffering,” preached at Coburg on Holy Saturday of 1530 and said, “Our teaching is this, that none should dictate or choose his own cross and suffering, but rather, when it comes, patiently bear and suffer it” (AE 51:199). We do not seek the cross, but the cross seeks us.

We are not observers of the Passion of our Lord, standing by simply watching Jesus with awe and sympathy as the events of Holy Week unfold. To hear the word of the cross and to trust the message that God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, is now to bear the cross. Wherever the Gospel is preached, said Luther, there the holy and blessed cross will follow. The cross comes with the territory of faith. The theology of the cross is no spectator sport.

The cross comes with the territory of faith. The theology of the cross is no spectator sport.

Jesus was carried by cross. He was lifted up, to use the words of the fourth Gospel, to draw all people to Himself. He will not take the wine mixed with myrrh for He has another cup to drain dry and He will not seek relief until it is accomplished. He suffers it all. The mockery and the reviling, He endures. Finally, at the ninth hour, He cries out in God forsakenness and breathes His last. Simon carried the cross, but Jesus was carried by the cross to death. Before his lifeless corpse, the centurion confesses: “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

Hermann Sasse said it well, “To confess the cross is to bear the cross,” echoing the words of Jesus, that anyone who would be His disciple must take up his cross and follow Him. We do not bear the cross to win our salvation. There is only One whose suffering is redemptive. The death He died, He died for you, in your place. Salvation comes not by imitation, but by faith in His sacrifice.

Compared with the cross of our Lord, Luther reminds us that our little crosses are mere splinters. They are crosses, nonetheless. Carried with trust in God’s promises, He uses them to crucify the old Adam who still resides in your flesh driving you back to the cross of Jesus where there is forgiveness, life, and salvation for you. And in the crosses laid on you, the crosses which you carry in your various callings, through them your neighbor is served as you bear their burdens.

Simon became a cross-bearer that first Good Friday. Marked with Jesus’ cross in your Baptism, you are a cross-bearer. The weight and the dimensions of your particular cross, its circumstances and duration, are not for me to say. The Lord knows. But with the cross laid on you, there is also the promise of your Baptism: “But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Romans 6:8). Amen.