I didn’t know what to expect of Latvia. “Oh, an Eastern European country?” said the Western Europeans I’d met so far,”They used to be part of Russian…surely they’re not safe?!”
So I disembark the Tallink ferry with my backpack, delighted to see L waiting outside Riga’s Passenger Terminal beside her mother’s car. We headed to town, passing some Soviet-era statues. Or so I thought.
Near the Railway Bridge of Riga, one of several spanning the river Daugava, was a dramatic monument to the 1905 revolution – the first hint of the common thread of Baltic state history. For the Latvians, the fight was against both Russian and Baltic German occupation.
On another side of town, the Brīvības piemineklis (Freedom Monument), that replaced the equestrian station of Russian Emperor Peter the Great, set up to commemorate the Latvian War of Independence (1918 – 1920), was allowed to remain during both German and Soviet control of the now-country. She was re-interpreted of course according to the prevailing political narrative: in Nazi Germany, as the struggle against communism, and for the U.S.S.R., as Mother Russia holding aloft the three Soviet Baltic republics – Latvian S.S.R., Lithuanian S.S.R. and Estonia S.S.R..
While most countries gloss over the bad times in their history to ease the pain of the past, the Latvians set up the Latvijas Okupācijas muzejs (Museum of the Occupation of Latvia) to remember 51 years of being “successively occupied by the USSR in 1940, then by Nazi Germany in 1941, and then again by the USSR in 1944” – both as a warning and a memorial.
How fragile independence as a nation is. You could build up your defence force and join a multi-national grouping like the European Union. But ultimately, boundaries are respected only as a matter of international law and treaties. If you had desirable resources in your land and unscrupulous powerful neighbours on whom the rest of the world depended too much, your friends might not be motivated to do anything more than slap your invaders on the wrist. For a while, social media might be awash with self-righteous articles on the injustice of it all, but then the next unjust thing happens and you’re yesterday’s outrage. You are at the mercy of the fickleness and self-interested self-preservation of others.
And so it is also with non-nationalistic imperialism.
“Apparently, Islamic terrorists will ask you if you are Muslim,”said someone at a dinner-party recently,”So I have memorised certain Arabic phrases to foil them.”
Having just read Revelation 1, I think Christians have a far greater assurance than might come from cribbing the answers to the Islamic terrorists’ spot quiz:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash round his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1, ESV)
This Jesus that Christians worship isn’t at all modest about who he really is:
- he is the ruler of kings on earth and to him be glory and dominion forever. He is described as the Ancient of Days as well as the Son of Man of Daniel 7 – a claim to divinity;
- to emphasise the point, he says,”I am the first and the last“. He is eternal, no one came before him and no one will come after him;
- despite being this most powerful man, he loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood;
- and so we know what we can look forward too, for he is the firstborn of the dead. “I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”he says. Jesus was the first to rise with a new resurrection body – assurance that believers will too.
- this Jesus is in charge of the whole world, for all time. This means that there is no one else to answer to but him. This also means he is the only one we can and should fear, not some human person with pathetic guns. “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28);
- death in this life means relatively little. The person who loves us controls even death and has promised to raise us to new life in the new heavens and earth.
What assurance this is!
Had this Stuart Townend song on repeat the night before, to drown out a Latvian granny’s nocturnal noisemaking. Very apt:
Join the song
Of the angels round the throne,
Giving worship to the One
Who lived and died
And lives forever more.
With the saints who fought the fight,
Resting now in heaven’s light
Where beauty dwells
And suffering is no more,
Now their suffering is no more.
Glory to the Saviour,
Singing hallelujah to the Lamb.
How I long
For the day when flesh is done,
Fear and hate are overcome
And all the earth
Is freed from grief and pain.
On that day
Every eye will meet his gaze,
Sin and death will flee away
As we behold the glory of the Lord,
We will bow before our God.
Worthy, worthy, worthy,
All the saints adore Thee,
Singing hallelujah to the Lamb.
Copyright © 2014 Townend Song