Ask any pastor, and they’ll tell you the central defining event of the Christian faith is the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. By his crucifixion, the world was redeemed from sin, and by rising from the dead, Jesus revealed the promise of eternal life.
But I think there’s more we can learn from these events than what Jesus himself did. Even in his darkest hour, there are people who perform small deeds around his death and his rising, and I’d like to examine what they did and what we modern Christians can learn from their humble example.
Simon of Cyrene
Simon was a man visiting from Cyrene, a bystander whom the Romans pressed into service in helping Jesus carry his cross (Mark 15:21). He didn’t know this man. He might have heard rumors of the preacher from Galilee and his sentencing by Pontius Pilate. But he was called out from the crowd to help a battered, broken man carry the cross. He did so, and some believe his heart was moved with pity for Jesus.
We often feel like bystanders in life, observing the big events happening all around us. Sometimes, we get the call to step up and help someone in need. Whether we answer or not is up to us.
Christian tradition holds that a woman named Veronica went forward and wiped Jesus’s face with her own veil. When he returned it to her, her veil now bore the face of Christ as an imprint. Veronica, however, does not appear in the actual Gospels. She is a figure, sometimes known as Berenike in the apochryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, or sometimes affiliated with the woman who touched the hem of Christ’s robe to be healed of her bleeding (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25–34; Luke 8:43–48).
Mercy comes in many forms. Even the act of touching someone, the act of offering to clean up, can be a moment of the greatest courage.
The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved
This phrase occurs often in the Gospel of John, to the point that many believed it refers to the actual Apostle John. After Jesus has been put onto a cross, he tells this disciple to look after his mother Mary (“Here is your mother”). The disciple took her into his own home (John 19:26-27).
Standing with those who mourn is powerful. I know this from experience, having lost my own mother years ago to a health complication. I have stood with others who mourn, and I know that, when you feel like the world is ending, having someone there for you is a gift and a mercy from God.
Joseph of Arimathea
Joseph is described as a rich man in Judea and a secret disciple of Jesus. He appeals to Pilate after the death of Jesus to claim the body and lay it in his own tomb (John 19:38). He and the women who attended the crucifixion anointed the body with spices and wrapped it in linen before closing the tomb.
It can seem like such a small thing, but let’s consider how we treat people when they’re gone. It’s one thing to grieve a fallen friend, but what about a person we despised? And suppose we showed some mercy to those who were wracked with pain, who met their end by suicide or some other tragedy?
Mary is described with other women coming on the third day after the death of Jesus to anoint his body with spices and cover it with fresh linen. They were prevented from doing so earlier because of the Sabbath day. But Mary finds the empty tomb, and she meets the Risen Christ himself. She goes and bears witness to the other disciples the Good News of the Resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10).
Being a witness is a challenge. It can be terrifying to speak up, especially when doing so means you might be condemned, disbelieved, or shunned before you can say a word. But the Gospels are rich with Christ’s message about testifying to the truth of salvation, even if it upsets the complacement social and religious order of the day.
I focus on these people not to distract from the central example of Jesus dying and rising again. Rather, I want to highlight the ways in which God’s mercy and justice can be made manifest, even in the smallest of our actions.