In the 1600s, the towns and cities of Europe were faced with two great challenges: unending wars among the countries, and the spread of disease by way of the plague.
The small town of Oberammergau, in the Bavarian part of Germany, was hit by the plague. The townspeople rallied together and in 1633 said that if God spared them from any further disease and death, they would put on a Passion Play every 10 years to commemorate this blessing. The disease stopped, and no further deaths occurred.
In 1634, the townspeople put on their first Passion Play to commemorate the life, sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Now, 376 years later, the people in this small town continue to put on a spectacular re-enactment of Jesus' final days. Some 2,000 villagers participate in the Passion Play, which takes almost a full year to prepare.
Those in the Passion Play must be residents of Oberammeergau for several years, and must commit to participating in the Play from mid-May through early October. The men begin growing beards and long hair on Ash Wednesday of the previous year--in this case, 2009.
The theater holds 4,500 people and pilgrims come from all over the world to witness this deeply moving spiritual event. This was my first visit for the Passion Play, and since I am 74 now, it is highly unlikely that I would be able to attend in 2020.
The Play follows the Gospel accounts very closely, but also links several Old Testament events to the life of Jesus and God's plan of salvation for the human family.
The staging of the Passion Play is remarkable, and with 2,000 villagers participating, all of the scenes calling for large numbers of people are carried out with huge crowds on stage. The music, the singing, the rapidly changing sets, and the flow of the Gospel events are captivating.
What I found so stunning was that those carrying out the various parts in the Play seem real--not like professional actors. You immediately relate to the person of Jesus, Mary, the Apostles, and all of those involved in the Gospel narratives.
The Passion Play is presented in two parts: Part I begins at 2:30 PM and runs to about 5:00 PM. There is a dinner break, and Part II starts at 8:00 PM, ending about 11:15 PM. Even with over five hours of presentation, the time goes by very quickly.
The final Resurrection scene is dramatically presented, and the entire Play is a deeply inspiring spiritual tableau.
I leave this delightful town with a renewed understanding of those final days of Jesus' life, and the incredible personal sacrifice which he made for us.
If you can't attend in 2010, be sure to make plans to attend in 2020--the next time the Play will be presented.
Their website: www.oberammergau-passion.com