The hand you are dealt

It all started with my brother’s status. He posted a picture of the val d’orcia ,Tuscany and suddenly , I was hearing theme songs from Gladiator.

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

What a short and very poignant summary of the movie. Maximus a Roman General , a victim of greedy and wanton Commodus. Victorious from battle one minute poised to be the next Emperor, next he is nothing but the scum of the Roman Empire. Despondent, despairing.

Lately, Christmas season has been a series of disappointments. Reflectively, I have not lost as much as Maximus, incomparable even. His was the true meaning of How the Mighty have fallen. Nevertheless, the Christmas season has always been poised as a happy one, glad tidings, great joy and all that. The first thing to go was Santa, there is no 🎅. So naughty or nice, that doesn’t matter, he is not real. As a working adult, there were no holidays. So this ‘happy holidays!’, that was not real either. Lately though it has been a reminder of loved ones not present at the dinner table, their jokes no longer ring in their air. When their favorite carols are played, they are not present to sing along. Sigh, sigh. This year as I reread the Nativity story, it slowly dawned on my already fragile belief system that the Magi were not numbered, they did not visit Baby Jesus in the manger. They followed a star, the people who do that now are called astrologers. Hmm. Then there was neither stable nor inn. The Jews had an upper room like the One the disciples prepared for the Last Supper. That was the ‘inn’. So the upper room of their hosts was full, they slept downstairs with the animals. So many Christmas carols, nativity plays went with this one.

As I watched Maximus, grieve over his murdered wife and son, I wondered how does one go through the motions of life when all has been taken away? Or when you realize that the Empire whose values you upheld has destroyed it in one swift moment and you are completely undone? What happens when all your achievements are weighed and deemed irrelevant because you will not bow to the whims of wickedness? And all your dreams and aspirations are crushed because you will not believe in a lie?

The crucible.

Paul writes to the Galatians and tells me that if he were to please men, he would not be a bondservant of Christ.

In the crucible, you answer the question, whose bondservant am I ? Maximus remained the loyal servant of Marcus Aurelius. He would not bow to Commodus. He chose slavery. The drudgery, the angst over the whims of an unstable lunatic Commodus.

Christmas reminded me of the One, in whom all things consist, the One who is before all things. He chose me, He chose to love me in close proximity. We have beheld His glory, full of grace and truth. He chose pain and death so I wouldn’t die. I found myself singing Easter hymns at Christmas:

when I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died My richest gain, I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.

With the angels, I worship and sing Gloria in Excelis Deo. With the shepherds, I sing what child is this?

Hope floats

Proximo, the most unlikely person sees him for who he is. He picks him out and Maximus remembers who he is. I am Maximus Decimus Meridus, General of the Felix legions. He may not be advancing Rome but by winning the games for Proximo, he will be free. Free to dream again in Rome. He becomes the best gladiator. he leads the best team. He meets Commodus.

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

Now we are free (you need to listen to the sound track👌 as played by the 2 Cellos)

Paul also writes to the Galatians to stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made them free and not to be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Proximo dangles freedom to men born free. Commodus takes away freedom, chains it and throws away the key. Maximus has one thing left, vengeance. He sets himself to avenge the deaths of his beloved Marcus Aurelius, his wife and his son. Everyone rallies behind him, Cicero, Lucilla, the gladiators, his army, Proximo, the crowd. He gets vengeance. He is free.

When are we truly free? When we have all we ever wanted? When we die?

I agree with Paul. When you meet Jesus, you are free indeed. He is the resurrection and the life, though you die yet you live. All earthly freedoms are valuable, they can be traded against each other and for other trinkets. Not so the freedom in Christ, it is sealed and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. God Himself is the guarantor of my freedom.Christmas has become a symbol of a never ending freedom.

Like Maximus, Now I am free.

I stand fast in the liberty by which the babe in the manger, the lamb of God has set me free.

Lascia la spina, cogli la rosa

On Saturday, a boat capsized on Lake Victoria and with it a number of young revellers. The media focus on the contrast between Saturday morning and Sunday morning for the 30 ,whose bodies were retrieved by divers, has been disheartening. It was disenchanting to watch body after body towed to shore. Tragic. So young, too soon. Only 26 alive and accounted for, out of over 100 young Ugandans.

Grief is a painful emotion, our red flag when our soul is wounded. Thorns are tiny and their pricks cause angst first to the limb and then to the entire body. Finger pricks are easily treated, we have first aid, we have plaster, we have emergency rooms, we have medics. Salt, we have salt! How does one treat wounds to the soul? How do you know that you are healing and that grief is abating? Sometimes grief tags along with us, slowly seeping into every thing we touch like Midas’ touch or like Elsa’s frost, we recognize it after everything freezes.

Christmas season is my favorite season to binge on my favorite composers. So many concerts, so little time. George Friedric Handel’s music is always a delight to listen to because mostly it is largo. How he brilliantly puts Isaiah’s prophecies to song especially The Young Messiah. This year, I find myself drawn to an aria, (as sang by Cecilia Bartoli), and it is from this aria that my title is drawn. The phrase, translated as leave the thorn, take the rose was written by Cardinal Benedectto Pamphilli in 1707 and put to music by George Handel in his last oratorio Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (The Triumph of Time and Disillusion).

A rose is a beautiful flower with such soft petals, a sweet fragrance and brilliant colours. But it also has thorns. No one picks a rose because of its thorns, neither does one place it in a vase and admire its thorns. A rose does have thorns though. Life has thorns, leave them. Take the rose.

The Shulamite in Songs of Solomon describes herself as the rose of Sharon.

I am truly his rose, the very theme of his song. I’m overshadowed by his love, growing in the valley!
Song of Songs 2:1 TPT

The Passion Translation describes her as the embodiment of her lovers affection. She is the theme of his song, St.Paul describes this as poema in his letter to the Ephesians . We are, each one of us, God’s poem. His handiwork. A handiwork made for good work. Take the Rose.

God is Love.

Each one of us is a work of love, David says that God knit us together in our mother’s womb. Knitting is a labour of love, it takes time and the finished product is warm and cuddly. Take the Rose.

His love overshadows us. Even in the valley, we grow. Sharon is a very swampy plain, roses would not grow well in this place. David writes about a journey through the valley of the shadow of death. God’s love overshadows us in the valley, in swampy and wrong places. We grow. We bloom, we flourish even in the valley.

Leave the thorn, take the Rose.

He gives me Rest

He was dead,

Our Hope,

Our Salvation;

Joseph, kind Joseph, had taken down his body, wrapped it in white linen and laid it in a tomb.

Nicodemus, perfumed his mangled body with myrrh and aloes as hastily as he could. It was Preparation Day, the light was dimming.

That was last night, what a night!

People saw their dead,

The temple curtain torn from top to bottom.

Judas hang himself. Peter and all the others are in hiding.

A centurion believes that Jesus is truly the Son of God.

Today is the Sabbath,

We rest,

We keep it holy,

We pray,

We give thanks to the Lord because He is good and His mercies endure forever;

We give thanks to the Lord because He is good, His love is eternal.

Yet

Our savior lies dead in a rich man’s tomb.

It hurts. Shall we wail in hopelessness? It is the Sabbath, it is the Lord’s day. The rumblings of victory swallowing death.

The lamb slain before the foundations of time?

Mary had broken her jar of precious oil, anointed his feet with oil,washed his feet with her tears. Giving her all, she, not a priest, not a man, prepared our passover lamb for sacrifice.

Dead on the Sabbath,

quietly reconciling,

reconstituting,

reframing,

resounding,

restoring,

All things to Himself,

All things in Himself,

All things for Himself.

Taking captivity captive,

Making a public spectacle of principalities and powers of darkness,

Taking the sting out of death,

Taking the sting out of Hades.

Redeeming us for Love alone,

Conveying us to the Kingdom of God,

Triumphing in Rest.

It is finished!