“And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.”
I have listened to numerous Easter cantatas and watched many Easter dramas, but none have ever mentioned Alexander and Rufus. The truth is, Alexander and Rufus played a minor role in the Holy Week drama. Okay, that’s stretching the truth. Technically, they played no actual role in the Holy Week story. But their father did. Him you know.
Their father, Simon of Cyrene, was the most famous passerby in history. He was undoubtedly a pilgrim in town for the Passover festival, probably a farmer, who stumbled into the role of cross-bearer for Jesus. Jesus had been so physically abused by his captors that he couldn’t bear the beam of his cross to Golgotha, and Simon of Cyrene’s path happened to intersect that of the crucifixion processional, so he was compelled to carry this condemned man’s cross. This farmer from the hinterland happened into the most extraordinary story in history and gained an eternal niche in our redemptive saga. He then disappeared from the annals of history. We know nothing more about him.
I should note, however, that an early Christian heretical group gave Simon of Cyrene a far more expanded role than he actually played. Early in the Christian era there was a Gnostic Christian group known as the Basildeans who argued that Simon of Cyrene not only bore Jesus’ cross but was actually crucified in Jesus’ stead! These Gnostics made a sharp distinction between what they regarded as the purity of the spirit and the evil of the corporeal body. According to the Gnostics, the Son of God must be a pure spirit, so they rejected the notion that God’s Anointed could experience something as gruesomely corporeal as crucifixion. They maintained that Simon of Cyrene not only bore Jesus’ cross but took his place upon it! There are those in every generation who have a hard time wrapping their minds around the idea that our Lord was subjected to such a brutal form of death.
That brings us to Alexander and Rufus. What do we know about Alexander and Rufus? Nothing. Not a thing.
However the early Christian community, particularly the Gentile community, knew exactly who Alexander and Rufus were! For the Gospel writer of Mark identifies Simon of Cyrene by means of his sons. They must have become prominent Christian believers among the Gentiles. Alexander and Rufus must have grown up to become well-known pillars among the Gentile Christians. That means that Alexander and Rufus in their own way became bearers of Christ’s cross themselves. Their father may have stumbled into the story of Jesus, but Alexander and Rufus chose to become bearers of the Christian message. Their father may have borne Christ’s cross by happenstance, but Alexander and Rufus consciously committed themselves to bearing the cross of their Lord. Their witness was so well-known that Mark could identify their father by means of their faith.
We too, are heirs of Simon of Cyrene. We, too, who gather around our Lord’s table today, carry on the tradition of Alexander and Rufus. We, too, have consciously become cross bearers. Never forget that we are the earthly presence of Christ on earth. Simon of Cyrene carried the cross of Jesus because our Lord couldn’t do it. So, too, we are meant to embody the mercy, the grace, the redemptive story and magnetic love of our Lord because Christ’s earthly time is done. We are to be the hands and feet and mouth of Christ in his stead. We are to do the work of our Lord, and thereby carry his cross for our generation. We are the heirs of Alexander and Rufus, bearers of the cross. And as we receive the bread, symbolic of our Lord’s broken body, as we partake of the cup, symbolic of our Lord’s shed blood, we signal our conscious willingness to be cross-bearers for our Lord, the living legacy of all who have borne Christ’s cross on earth before us.