The events of Passiontide this year moved me a great deal. They began on Maundy Thursday when I attended a Passover meal at the Salvation Army corps/church in the centre of Riga. On Good Friday I again attended the corps in Riga where the Lieutenant, Marika, had prepared a memorial of the events of the week leading up to Good Friday which involved all of the five senses. Following this I joined with others in the centre of Riga for the Good Friday walk. We stopped at different landmarks, mainly in the Old City, and the stations of the cross were enacted at each place. The walk concluded by each person being given a stone which could be placed at the foot of the cross representing burdens, sins, etc. It was moving to see people queuing to place their stone.The whole walk was brilliantly organised with excellent sound systems and a professionally produced brochure so one could follow what was going on. It has to be the best organised Good Friday walk I have ever been on – and the largest. I estimate there were around 1500 – 2000 people following the cross. On Easter Saturday I attended an organ and cello recital of sacred music offered free of charge by one of the Lutheran churches in the Old City.
What seemed to link all these experiences together was the theme of ‘suffering’. As I sat on the floor at the Passover meal I began to try, in imagination, to think of Jews who, even in the most difficult circumstances throughout the ages, had faithfully kept the Passover and the story of their liberation alive. It was then it dawned on me that for the first time ever I was commemorating this festival in a city where there had been a Jewish ghetto, where it is possible to go and visit places where Jews were massacred in large numbers. Suddenly, the suffering of the Jews became much more real to me.
After the Passover Meal, Nina dragged along Aivis to interpret for me, and started to tell her story. Her mother had been forced into exile in Siberia whilst still pregnant with Nina, but it was her mother’s faith amidst the atheism that surrounded her, that influenced Nina to become a Christian. As the conversation progressed Aivis, almost in a matter of fact way, told me that almost every Latvian family has its stories of family members who were sent to Siberia, many on one night in the early 1940’s and many of whom had not been heard of again. If it doesn’t sound too pretentious it was a moment when I felt as if I were standing on ‘holy ground’. Right there sharing in that Passover meal were people who had a sense of what suffering really means deep in their personal and collective psyche. Not only that, but there was Nina, and possibly others too, who had experienced this suffering at first hand. I could only imagine how the liberation story of the Passover might have impacted them as we shared it together, and the depth of meaning it might have for them which I could not possibly experience.
I carried this thought into Friday. It was truly awesome to see so many on the walk. We sang together as we followed the cross, and watched, and listened. I couldn’t get over the fact that here, in post-modern 21st century Europe there were so many who reverently (I got ‘ssh’ d’ for talking too loud at one point!) and thoughtfully followed the cross round. It was moving to see little families with buggies as part of the procession. Then I made a link with my Passover conversations. Could it be that these people with their own experience of suffering and oppression were able to identify more fully with the horror of the sufferings of Jesus on the cross? Were they able to appreciate more, because of their own suffering, the comfort there is in knowing that God suffers with us as well as for us? I don’t know. What I do know is that there was something about Passiontide here in this place, with these people, against their recent historical backdrop that incarnated the suffering of Jesus for me in a new way this year.
‘……surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…’ (Isaiah 53)