Wineskins Archive

January 22, 2014

Once Upon a Cross, Part 2 (Jul 1992)

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The Write Side

by Thom Lemmons
July, 1992

3Getting into my car, I try to decide whose music I’m in the mood for. Wagner? No, too heavy, like a banana split with a chocolate malt chaser. Mozart? Too sprightly. Right now I don’t feel much up to sprightliness. Bach? Hmmm, yeah. Just the right balance. Light in texture but no gymnastic. I dig through the cassettes in my console, find the recording I’m after and insert it. “Little Fugue” in G minor blooms from the four speakers, filling the interior of the vehicle with the crystalline, mathematical mazes of Bach’s counterpoint.

It crosses my mind that Johann Sebastian Bach was an intensely religious man. He is supposed to have said that music should be for “the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit.” or words to that effect. Not surprising, since so much of his material was based on Lutheran hymn tunes. I’ll bet it was just something to see when the Bach family went to church. Of course, Johann had to be there early since he was the organist and choirmaster. So Mama Bach – his cousin Maria Barbara, wasn’t she? – had to get the seven little children fed, dressed, and into the pews before the first chorale prelude. No wonder she died at such an early age. But then came Anna Magdalena, more fecund by half than his first wife. They had 13 children together. Of course, less than half survived him. Lots of baby-sized coffins in those days.

I wonder if Bach had any daughters. What am I talking about? With 20 kids, of course he had daughters! What would it have been like to be a child of the greatest keyboardist and composer in Germany? No doubt the boys, at least, spent a lot of time at the kitchen table and the keyboard, slaving over counterpoint and harmonization assignments. It must have worked out okay: Johann Cristoph, Carl Philippe Emmanuel, Wilhelm Friedmann, and Johann Christian went into the family business when their turns came.

But what about the girls? Did they ever get any counterpoint assignments? Were they ever challenged, coached, admonished to become anything other than housekeepers and broodmares or, at most, intelligent, Godfearing adornments to the husbands selected for them? I wonder if they got into fights with their father. Or, were they in such a distant orbit that his actions and attitudes toward them were irrelevant or, worse, nonexistent? If they survived their father physically, did any of Bach’s daughters survive him emotionally and spiritually? Or, being girl-children, were their dreams and ambitions doomed to stillbirth?

I called my folks last night. When pressed, Dad acknowledged receipt of the birthday card with a reluctant thanks. He wanted to know if I was going to church anywhere regularly. I told him no, not really, and that effectively ended his part of the conversation. Mom wanted to know if I was dating anybody, and I told her no. Ditto for Mom. Their worst fears for me confirmed, the call limped toward an anemic goodbye. Just before she hung up, Mom said, “Janice honey … you know” – I could almost hear her looking over her shoulder, making sure Dad was out of earshot – “you know your father loves you, don’t you?”

“Yeah, Mom, I know.”

“He just has trouble … expressing his feelings.

Right. “Yes, Mom, I understand. Don’t worry. I love you, okay?”

“I love you too, honey.” Dial tone.

No mail in my box at the apartment, except for my electric bill. Oh, for the days of “all-bills-paid” apartment living! But those went out with the energy crisis times in the mid-seventies.

Ahh, the weekend! I luxuriate in the feeling of Friday evening. I exult in the long, plush comfort of the next 55 hours; I soak in them like a hot, scented bubblebath after the cold, damp exertion of the week. Time to do as I like, to go at any pace that suits me. Time to find out what sort of trouble Linus has gotten himself into. With relish, I flip on the power switch to my word processor.

By the time Linus could deliver the cross he had built to Golgotha, receive his payment, and return to the city, the sun was striding toward midday. He set his face sternly toward his house, determined to avoid the vicinity of the Temple and Antonia Fortress. He had no intention whatever of being drawn into the storm gathering about the Galilean prophet. The tensions, voiced and unvoiced, which he had witnessed in the Temple and streets of jerusalem had shown him the folly of placing oneself under the unwelcome scrutiny of Rome and the Temple hierarchy. Indeed, having naked malice displayed on the faces of Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas, Linus was hard put to say which was worse: to oppose the empire, or the leaders of his own people.

One thing was certain: the Galilean’s reluctance to grasp the reins of power had served him ill. Again and again, Linus had heard the common folk of Jerusalem and surrounding countryside testify to their awe of the presence and reputation of the wandering preacher from the north country. That the Galilean had gripped the imagination of the masses, Linus could never doubt. Why, then, had he failed to properly use this one weapon which Sadducees and Pharisees most feared and could least withstand? At his one, fleeting encounter with the Galilean, Linus had felt the eyes, the mind of the prophet boring into his own. The Nazarene, whatever else one could say about him, was no simple-headed vagabond. Linus knew this in the core of his soul.

Even the Gentiles in the Temple court had sensed his power. And why, how, had he allowed himself to be trapped within the clutches of the High Priest and his accomplices? For months he had moved cannily about Judea and Galilee, preaching to crowds, drawing such a following as made him impossible to ignore, surpassing even John the Baptizer in the adulation of the throngs. He came into the very Temple courts, surrounded by an adoring mob, throwing down his challenges, unhindered and unanswered, before the feet of Caiaphas and the others. How could a man this astute in the ways of power, this aware of the self-serving greed of the Temple establishment, this attuned to the moods, the dreams, the desires of those around him, allow himself to be snared like a sleeping bird, captured by the callow betrayal of one of his deputies?

Linus tied the donkey in his stall, tossing a few handfuls of straw into the manger. He slouched into his shop and scattered the half-dozen silver coins, the payment for his carpentry work, onto a table. he flopped down on a nearby bench, and set about convincing himself that his involvement in the affair was ended.

He should be busying himslef, he knew. After all, was this not Passover Eve? Linus had not gone completely without friends since coming to Jerusalem; usually, he would keep the first night’s feast with some household or other. No doubt he should be out and about, to see who might have a spare place at the board. And besides – ought he not go to the market to buy the unleavened matzoh which he would eat with his melas for the rest of the week? There were plenty of things he needed to be doing. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s … and to God what is God’s ….”

He picked up the coin, rubbing his thumb thoughtfully over the emporer’s image. The words of the Nazarene haunted him, echoed relentlessly in his memory like a challenge … or a promise. It came to Linus that the reason for the prophet’s misfortune was his unwillingness to be cast in any of the molds which were familiar to everyone. Was he a Zealot? A popular, military champion of the people, like likes of the long-dead Maccabees? No. He might stride to the cliff’s edge of rebellion, but he would step aside at the last, and turn his attention to other things. Indeed, outside of the rowdy demonstration in the Court of the Goyim, Linus had never seen or heard of the Nazarene showing violence to anyone. Was he an Essene? hardly. He came willingly to the Temple at feast-times, gladly embraced the occasion to teach such as would listen to his words. His was not the austere isolation, the unforgiving rigidity of the Qumran hermits, which drove them to forsake mankind in favor of some remote, sterile comfortless vision of truth.

But neither was he compatible with the Pharisees, and still less the Sadducees. Fore he seemed to genuinely love the dirty, crippled, work-bent masses who flocked to him, who hung on his words, who begged him for healing and – some said – were made whole. Not for him the haughty ambition of the Sadducees, nor the manipulative platitudes of the Pharisees. So – in what mold was the Galilean cast? Linus stared at the coin in his hand. Whose image was stamped upon the Nazarene? Would anyone ever know, or would the puzzling prophet from Narareth carry the secret to his tomb?

More to the point, Linus wondered: whose image was stamped upon himself? Until the Nazarene had come along, he had generally avoided such deliberations. For Linus, identity had long been a matter of the tallying of losses. He defined himself by what was left behind – which was little enough, he though.

Was this the reason for the instinctive hatred of Caiaphas toward the Galilean – because he would not allow himself to be easily defined? Perhaps he was the unknown factor, a principle of uncertainty in some precarious balance which the High Priest and his peers wished to remain unchanged. Could this be the stimulus which drove the Temple leaders to be so adamant for his blood? Certainly, they had never so troubled themselves over other, more conventional troublemakers. Even the Baptizer Prophet was secretly applauded by them.

Decisively, Linus slapped the table, and stood. He would see the thing to its finish. For good or ill, the Nazarene still maintained a purchase on his mind, still tugged and nagged at his long-dormant sense of wonder.

For the sake of tat, at least, Linus would follow the course to whatever end it might lead.

He strode out the door and turned uphill, toward the Fortress Anotnia …


This is an excerpt from Thom Lemmons’ forthcoming novel, Once Upon a Cross, ©1992 by Thom Lemmons, published by Questar Publishers, Inc., Sisters, Oregon.Wineskins Magazine

Thom LemmonsThom Lemmons writes novels and manages ACU Press/Hillcrest Publishing. His works include the bestseller Jabez: a Novel, published by WaterBrook Press; Mother of Faith, Woman of Means and Daughter of Jerusalem, published by Multnomah Books. Other works include He Who Wept, Sunday Clothes and King’s Ransom. He has three children.

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