Tour of Luther’s Germany: July 24
Sunday, July 24, 2022: Oberammergau
The village of Oberammergau is a friendly, artistic community featuring elaborately frescoed homes, world-class wood carvers, and an abundance of alpine activities—all framed by the majestic Alps. Oberammergau is best known for its live Passion Play, performed every ten years by its dedicated residents since the mid-17th century.
A bit of history
The history of the Oberammergau Passion Play dates back to the middle of the Thirty Years War. In 1633, after months of suffering from the Bubonic Plague, the people of Oberammergau made a vow that if God spared them from any further deaths, they would perform a dramatic portrayal of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ every ten years. Miraculously, not another inhabitant of the town died from the plague from that moment on, and all those already suffering recovered. True to their promise, the residents performed the “Play of the Suffering, Dying and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ” in 1634 and have continued the tradition nearly every ten years since.
While it is clearly a powerful depiction of Christ’s death and resurrection, the Passion Play has not been without its own controversy. Using a largely unchanged text from 1860, Adolf Hitler extolled the Passion Play as “the parching strength of the home soil” to be “of significance for the Reich”. He also called Pilate the prototype of the Roman who is superior “in race and intelligence” and who seems “like a rock in the midst of the Jewish vermin and swarm.” After WWII, there was an outcry to re-write the Passion Play, with a petition led by American Jewish leaders including Arthur Miller and Leonard Bernstein. Unfortunately, the text of the play did not undergo significant reform until its 1990 production.
The Passion Play is roughly 5 hours long, presented in two parts, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. It is a combination of spoken text, visual tableaus and choral music. Even though it is all in German, the images are easy to follow, and a beautiful portrayal of Christ’s love seen most clearly on the cross.
One aspect of the Passion Play is the power of music to proclaim the beauty of God’s creation, the power of Christ’s sacrifice and the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit. While chanting the Psalms was brought into the church by Bishop Gregory the Great in the late 500’s, it would be nearly 1,000 years later before congregation singing would be incorporated into worship – under the leadership of Martin Luther. Not only did he translate the sung portions of the Latin Mass into German, he personally wrote or commissioned numerous hymns, believing firmly that when good theology is set to music, if can permeate one’s heart more deeply. In the early days when there were no hymnals, the pastor would often sing the hymns line by line, which were repeated by the congregation (similar to the African-American Spirituals). Luther also believed that the style of worship music should match the vernacular, ie, he often set hymn texts to secular songs, quipping: “Why should the devil get all the good tunes?” As one who connect deeply with God through music, (particularly congregational song), we offer our thanks to Luther for this contribution.
Reflection verses The Seven Last words of Christ
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
Woman, behold your son! Behold your mother!
Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.
Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
It is finished!
Hymn(s) of the Day O Sacred Head Now Wounded
Thine Is the Glory
A look ahead
Tomorrow, we travel to Munich for a day of touring and a farewell dinner.