We spent Easter in Melbourne (Australia) and thanks to family and friends we were able to enjoy a performance of J S Bach’s Johannes Passion.
It has been many years since we attended a live performance of one of Bach’s Passions during the pre-Easter season, and this one (as always) was a treat: a modestly sized but competent and youthful choir and orchestra, young and gifted soloists, and all brought and kept together by Douglas Lawrence, an excellent conductor. The setting was also as Bach intended: the city’s Scots’ Church is probably about the same size as the buildings for which Bach wrote his Christian music, and it was comfortably full.
Inviting for our group of 5 Dutchies, the evening was free – as were the program notes with the full set of the German words with an English translation. What a gift for a church to have benefactors who are happy to invest like this!
The three of us arrived well on time and found good seats, we greeted our friends seated a row behind us, shuffled into our rather narrow pew past two older and hardly slightly-built people, and I then tried hard to make get used to the hard wooden seating while I read through the program notes.
Just over two hours of inspiring music followed: modern and two very old instruments supported the narration of the poignant story of Jesus’ suffering and death and the responses in aria and chorus.
As we prepared to leave, the stocky older gentleman next to me turned my way and asked me very politely with a slightly Dutch accent, “Excuse me, are you Fred van der Bom?” When I said I was indeed, he told us his name, and it was then that I recognised him (‘of course”) as an old and significant family friend.
His and my parents had been close collegial friends, as both couples had dedicated much of their later lives working with Dutch Christian migrants in Australia. My friend is some 10 years older than me, and when I came to know him in my teenage years that meant a considerable age gap. But he stood out for as a fellow and senior “minister’s son”; he was also the first person I ever met who shared my infant pyloric stenosis story (although he had managed to avoid the surgeon), and he had a deep and fine appreciation of Christian culture, and in particular art, especially that of the Flemish Vincent Van Gogh, to whose remarkable life and work he introduced me.
To both of us this totally unexpected meeting was such a surprise and joy: our life journeys had not crossed during more than 30 years but had run on somewhat parallel courses for more than 50 years. We swapped as much of our families’ tidbits as we could in the 20 minutes or so that we had available. His family as mine had started within a conservative Christian church community but had fanned out in some very colourful directions.
On the train trip home we talked as much about this meeting as we did about the Passion. Surprise encounters like this can be as special as they are unexpected. We also reflected on some of the other surprise meetings Helen and I remember fondly – one in a Chicago bus station and another in the market square of Harderwijk in the Netherlands.
Each of these is of course unique – but that’s another story.