In his memorable novel, The Weeping Chamber, Sigmund Brouwer takes one of the minor characters of the Bible and builds a story that captures the essence of Christ and vividly portrays the last days of the Savior’s life.
Set in Holy Week, the novel focuses on two characters: Jesus and the man many Christians know as Simon of Cyrene.
Simon is in Jerusalem for the Passover, but that is not the primary reason he traveled from Cyrene. He plans to turn his wealth and holdings over to his cousin with the understanding the cousin will take care of Simon’s wife and surviving daughter. For the rest of their lives. Then Simon intends to kill himself.
Simon is wracked by guilt. He blames himself for the death of his son and the crippling of his daughter in a fire. They wouldn’t have been in the warehouse if he was not so wrapped up in his work and in building more wealth. He’s even lost the love of his wife.
Brouwer has an amazing gift for creating characters that burst through the confines of cliché and become authentic people with hurts and dreams and guilt. Simon is such a character. He captures our hearts. We cheer for him through his story and mourn when his experiences don’t convince him to change his mind.
Brouwer also has a gift for making the story world come alive. He puts us right in Jerusalem in Holy Week. His description of Christ’s time in the city in the last week of his life is accurate and thrilling, even though we know the outcome of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Brouwer makes it no less real because of the known outcome. The city, the temple, the garden, the last supper all become alive as the author puts right there.
In the story world Brouwer creates, Simon meets Jesus before the crucifixion. Simon is in the temple when Jesus overthrows the money changers. He’s present when Jesus thwarts every argument of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He’s present at the moment of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden. And he’s on the scene through our Lord’s trials and death.
Each of these encounters is well constructed and believable. None of them feel contrived. As Steven James would say, they flow naturally from the story Brouwer weaves.
Equally forceful and real is Simon’s turmoil. He wants to believe. He even asks Jesus to heal his daughter. But he is also a man of doubts about his worthiness and a man of guilt and shame over his failure to protect his family.
I’m not going to give the ending away. It’s one each reader must experience for themselves because it will speak to each reader about his or her own relationship with Jesus. It is an ending well worth reading and contemplating just for that reason.
Through the story of Simon of Cyrene, we experience a personal and real Jesus because we see him through the eyes of a man just like us.
I cannot give this book a high enough recommendation. I can only urge you to read this book with open hearts and be ready to experience Jesus like you never have before.