A Necessary Sacrifice

simon of cyreneWhen I was 12, my grandpa died.  He was my father figure, my hero.  He was the one who saved me when I got myself into a bind as I often did back then.  One day, my grandma and I were going to my aunt and uncle’s beauty shop where we were meeting my other aunt so everyone could get their hair done as we did about once a month.  When we arrived, I thought it was strange that my uncle was there, too.  I remember them all chatting off by themselves while I sat there seething because they wouldn’t tell me what was going on.  Finally, they said that my grandpa had a heart attack and was in the hospital, so they were going to send me off with my uncle’s sister to wait at her house.  I was upset that they treated me like a child and wouldn’t let me go with them to the hospital.  I was infinitely more upset, though, when my mom came home and told me the news that he had already been dead when his brother found him slumped over the kitchen table.  I flew into a fury and felt like my family, God, and even my grandfather had betrayed me.  My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

My grandpa died on Good Friday.  A savior already died on this day, why did God have to take my savior?  For Easter, my mom gave me a Michael Bolton CD and one of the songs was “How am I Supposed to Live Without You?”  I bawled my eyes out listening to that song over and over again.  I still tear up when I hear that and “Wind Beneath My Wings” which my cousin sang at his funeral.

I can still see his good friend Norm coming up to me at the visitation.  Norm was a biker who customized Harleys in his machine shop across the street from where we lived.  He drank a bottle of Red Eye every day and had a mouth that made a sailor look like a saint.  I’ll never forget the shock that I felt when he came to me with tears in his eyes and said, “Well, you’re going to have to grow up now.”  I couldn’t believe it.  What a jerk!  How could he be saying something so rude to me at a time like this?  I wanted to hit him.  It wasn’t until days or weeks later when I realized that he was right.  Although I would never have wished for my grandfather to die, it occurred to me that nobody would bail me out when I got myself in trouble.  I had to start doing for myself and stop being a knucklehead.  And so I changed.  It was as simple as that.  My old self had to die.  It was crucified on Good Friday and it was time to start looking to Easter for the birth of a new me.

I chose the Mark text instead of the Matthew text in the lectionary because it is closer to a historical account.  It’s NOT an historical account, because we know that Mark was not with Jesus at the crucifixion.  His gospel was written over 20 years after Jesus died.  Matthew and Luke used Mark as their source to write their gospels another 20-30 years after Mark.  So it makes me wonder who this character Simon is.  Who does he represent?  I suppose he represents all of us.  The ones who want to stand on the sideline and just watch from the periphery and then are thrust into the experience against our will.  When you stand so close to the action you can’t help but get a little blood on your hands and be greatly transformed by the experience.

I can recall my time in Japan when I would take part in the matsuri each year.  We carried the omikoshi that weighed hundreds if not over a thousand pounds.  I was one of the tallest ones and so a good portion of the weight was on my shoulder, digging in, pushing me down, hurting my back, my neck.  So I can sort of relate to Simon, but at least I had 20 other people helping to share the weight.  He had this huge, solid piece of wood laid on his shoulder and was made to drag it.  Here’s your boulder Sisyphus – go.  The top of the hill must have seemed like miles away and the closer he got, the farther away it seemed.  I can see him as he finally dropped the cross where the centurion told him to.  Jesus and the cross hit the ground at the same time and dust flies up in Simon’s eyes as he looks on at this broken and battered man lying there wondering if he was still alive.  I imagine the tears in his eyes were not all from the dust that was stinging them, but from a deeper understanding of what was happening to this man, but yet never really comprehending why it had to happen.  Who was this man that would challenge the common wisdom, the authority of the day knowing what would happen to him if he did?  And then they stretched the man out, secured his arms with ropes to the cross beams, centered the spikes and began pounding.  Thump.  Thump.  Thump.  Each lowering of the hammer brought a deeper sob from Simon who had front row seats.

Crucifixion hurts.  So does rebirth.  Neither of these things are easy.  Just ask anyone who has had spikes driven through their wrists and feet.  Ask anyone who has given birth to a child.  There is great darkness before the morning, before the rebirth happens and we are born anew.  It’s not something that happens quickly.  Three days is a metaphorical image for a really long time that is required for completeness.  Even then, for us, it’s really not complete.  We have to keep doing it again and again.

Today I still find myself in situations where things don’t go as well as they ought to.  Sometimes relationships don’t click the way they seem they should.  Sometimes somebody will suggest that I do things a little differently.  My first reaction is to get my hackles up and wonder what their problem is.  Why can’t they see things my way – the right way?  Eventually, usually later than sooner, I remember that 12 year old boy on Good Friday and I recall that I am the common denominator in every situation.  I become acutely aware that Good Friday and Easter are not once-and-for-all-time events.  They are events that have to happen annually, daily in fact so that I can remember who I am and who God has called me, indeed created me to be.

2 Responses to “A Necessary Sacrifice”

  1. Thank you for this post. My grandfather just passed away today on Good Friday, and even though I thought I was prepared and mature in my faith, it is still heart wrenching and shocking. Thank you God for sending your son for us, your grace is immeasurable. May your grandpa and mine rest in peace, and I hope you can recognize the beauty in their passing on the day of the most beautiful exchange.

    • Thank you, Britt. I appreciate your words. My condolences and prayers are with you and I, too, hope that we can keep growing in faith while appreciating those who have come and gone. Brandyn.

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