I am taken by the symmetry of scripture. Like things occur in close connection with one another. Or they bracket on sections. Actually, there is a symmetry to the Bible, starting with a garden, ending with a garden, but that is another story. The birth place of Jesus may very well have been a cave, and sheep were often housed in them, and ended in a cave, honed out to serve as a tomb. Examples abound.
One such symmetry is found in a road. Before the cross was a road. It was the road that led from Pilate’s judgment seat to the top of THAT hill. After the resurrection we will see another road, Emmaus Road, but that is for Sunday. Tonight we journey together down the road to Golgatha.
Early in church history, people began mapping out possible routes that Jesus would have taken, identifying various known events along the way. Other events were created/invented and one can take the Via Delorosa to this day with its eight stations. This, however, is not about those stations. It is about a road.
As Jesus made his way from the palace to the cross, he had several encounters. And a mishap or two. Matthew, Mark and Luke all share one of those encounters. It was with a man from Cyrene, Simon by name. Following a stumble, Simon was drafted to assist the carrying of the cross beam. Jesus was too weak, too bloody, to continue. Who this man was, or what roll if any he will play in the future church is unknown. He was just a guy, in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the right place at the right time. He became a man remembered by all Christendom.
Only Luke records the other encounters. The first was with some grieving women along the way. They were weeping for Jesus. Their identity is unknown but they may have been some of the women who helped support Jesus’s ministry. His words to them, “Weep not for me, but for yourselves.” He goes on to speak of judgment, and a time when being barren would be a blessed thing.
A last encounter recorded by Luke was with two men who would share Jesus’s fate that day. They were the two criminals to be crucified on either side of Jesus. Luke did not record of any interaction with these two until after they hung on the cross, but that is another story.
This must have been an absolutely horrid journey. Jesus had endured the betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter. He has been before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, and back to Pilate. Soldiers had mock Jesus, playing who slapped you and dress up. Remember the purple robe and the painful crown. And they beat him. He experienced the Roman whip. It was a tool of torture, the purpose of which was to make time on the cross short. Many never made it to the cross, dying from the scourging. As well, the very presence of Simon on the side of the road decries the parade of that night. People, some of whom just five days before had hailed Jesus as king now watch as he headed to the cross.
Blood, pain, betrayal, denial, sin, suffering, sacrifice, and more were carried down that road that night. I image it a rather lonely road. Jesus had asked for relief from the Father, but none was to be found. Few if any really understood what was happening. An intriguing aspect to me is that the journey was made, not simply for us, 2000 years later, but for those who mocked, gawked, and found pleasure in his pain. Later in the evening he will utter, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
Five days before this Jesus traveled a road, up to the temple, hearing praise and worship. Today, Good Friday, he traveled down a road (same road????) to Calvary. He came to town proclaimed king. He left town with thieves, convicted of blasphemy. He will arrive at the end of that road to become the savior of the world.
Tonight, as we shared in the body and blood of Jesus, we journeyed with him. As we shared in our music and readings, we journeyed that road with him. Yet, in actuality, because he traveled it alone, that road of pain, suffering, and judgment, we will not have to. Only one journeyed that road that night. Simon was there. Thieves were there. A crowd lined the streets. But it was Jesus, alone, making that journey down that road for you and me. And all who came before and will follow us.