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Report 1988: Yes, Zig Has Written About our Bavaria Trip!

By Zig and Georgia from Kentucky, Spring 2010

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Page 9 of 30: Friday May 21 - Oberammergau (continued)

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Power vs. Weakness. Which is stronger? The movers and shakers of the world or the dreamers? The chorus tells us “Those in power are plotting an act of violence. But without fear Jesus goes his way. He puts his trust in the Lord as did Moses who escaped from Pharaoh’s warriors.” And the tableau vivant shows us the parting of the Red Sea. After a miracle it all seems understandable, if not inevitable, but standing on the shore beforehand, looking at the water, it’s hard for people to have. The Chorus pleads on our behalf: “When we cannot see your goals, let us have faith in your guidance!”

Act 2 shows Jesus in Bethany at the home of Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus. They are excited at the prospect of Jesus being crowned king of the Jews. He’ll throw out the Romans. Jesus tries to tell them that it’s not going to be that way. He’s going to be handed over to the priests and killed. They don’t want to hear that. They start to worry about what’s going to become of them if Jesus is killed. “Such concerns trouble the godless! Seek first the kingdom of God, and everything else will be given to you.” Judas is especially worried because the cash-box will be empty if Jesus is gone: “Make provisions to cover our future expenses!” Then he complains that the oil poured out by Mary Magdalene could have been sold to support the poor. “Such expensive oil! What a waste!”

I lost track of the play at this point, because the theatre was getting darker as the sun set and I couldn’t read the libretto as well, but also because I make stained glass windows for a living and this is an argument I often hear. Churches are always faced with deciding between “beautification” and “serving the poor.” Jesus speaks for the ages when he says, “Why do you criticize something done for love? She has done a good work for me.” Feeding the poor or beautifying the church - either one, done in love - is a good work “done for me.”

In this production even Judas is portrayed with sympathy: “Why should I follow you? I don’t much feel like it.” He was first attracted to Jesus by the great deeds but they have come to nothing. “You are not grasping the opportunities that offer themselves to you. Now you talk of leaving and dying and give us empty promises in mysterious words of a future that for me is too far off.”

Judas is tired of believing and hoping. He doesn’t see anything to come except more poverty and degradation. Instead of sharing in Jesus’ reign, all he can foresee is persecution and imprisonment. Peter is shocked by his disbelief, but Judas closes the act with the haunting words: “Who feels like bearing those? I don’t. I don’t.”

The next act’s tableau is the Golden Calf, where Moses shouted, “Whoever belongs to the Lord, come over and stand with me!” At crunch time, we must vote with our feet. There is no neutrality. And circumstances make it harder and harder for the disciples in this act. They must either embrace him or abandon him. One by one they leave and those in power conspire to crush the dreamer. Caiaphas speaks for all the “practical” leaders of the world: “It is better that one man should die than an entire nation should perish.”

Judas agrees to betray Jesus, accepting the fig-leaf that the High Priest only wants to talk with him.

Act Four’s tableau is the Paschal meal before the Exodus. Jesus offers himself as the Paschal lamb and gives himself in the bread and wine. It is a beautiful act with wonderful exchanges between Jesus and the disciples during the foot-washing, and exchanges among Jesus, Peter, and Judas. Very moving and subdued. And as Jesus says “This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you; no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for others,” Judas leaves.

Act Five in the Garden of Gethsemane was also very moving. There is a tension in the staging and a sense that events are spinning out of control. There is the normal cast of heroes and villains, but the play introduces a new character simply called “Angel.” Angel laments the Prince of Heaven being struck and mocked and laughed-at by his own creation. No one can see him except Jesus who watches silently as Angel kneels and writes on the ground, recalling the gesture Jesus made when the crowd wanted to stone the woman taken in adultery.

The disciples, exhausted, fall asleep as Jesus agonizes alone: “Father! Do not abandon me! Sins, humanity’s sins! You crush me! My Father! Father! Your son!” Angel, who has remained squatting now rises and walks ever so slowly toward the prostrate Jesus. He lays his hand on Jesus’ shoulder and carries the Father’s message: “Take on the pain! Allow yourself to be pierced by their crimes and crushed by their sins. Heal them through your wounds!” Jesus replies “Yes, Father, your will be done!”

And that was the end of the first part.

The intermission lasted three hours. We walked back to the youth hostel for supper and then walked around the village some more, visiting the woodcarver’s museum. We mainly talked about the play of course, and agreed that it was surprising how quickly it seemed to be going. We talked about the debate between “beautifying the church” and “feeding the poor.” The dichotomy troubled me but I couldn’t explain why. After the museum we meandered back to the theater.

The second part began with the trial before Annas when Judas discovers he’s been fooled. The high priest doesn’t want to talk with Jesus; he wants to kill him. The exchanges between Jesus and the priests come faster and faster until they reach their climax with Caiaphas imploring, “In the name of the living God! Speak! Are you the Messiah, the Son of God who is highly praised?” Jesus replies, “You say it - I AM,” speaking the tetragrammaton YHWH, standing for the name of God that was never to be spoken. Caiaphas tears his robes at the blasphemy and the die is cast. They are going to find a way to kill him.

In Act Seven, Peter denies Jesus, and the play compares his betrayal with Judas’. Peter begs forgiveness and John tells him that Jesus looked on him with love. Peter promises, “Nothing will ever separate me from you again!” Judas tries to redeem himself by giving the 30 pieces of silver back. The priests just laugh at him. He despairs of ever being forgiven and the act ends with him making a hangman’s noose, “Come, you serpent, coil yourself around my throat! Strangle the traitor!”

Act eight shows Jesus before Pilate and Herod. The living tableau presents Moses expelled by Pharaoh before the exodus. The rulers of the world don’t like to be told they don’t have the final say. They don’t like to be reminded that they, too, are subject to a higher law. They always seem to assume that you can kill a dream by killing the dreamer, or kill an idea by killing the thinker, or kill God by killing His messenger - even if the messenger is His Son. They flog Jesus and crown him with thorns and in act nine Pilate washes his hands of the matter and condemns Jesus to death.

Act ten is the Way of the Cross, with the Tableau presenting the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, when God provided a sheep for His own sacrifice. In a way Mary is the central figure of this act. It is through her eyes that we see the crucifixion and it’s terrible sadness. In the beginning of the act she laments what is happening much as any mother might lament the terrible things that are being done to her son. But standing at the foot of the cross Mary realizes that the suffering is part of his mission: “What shall I say? And what can I tell you, since you yourself have done this? Lord, my God, I am suffering agony! Be with me!” And when the centurion pierces Jesus’ heart with a spear, she screams.

Taken down dead from the cross, Jesus is laid in her arms. John, the beloved disciple, says “See Mother, peace rests on his face!” and she replies in perhaps the most beautiful speech of the play: “Peace is also returning to my heart. See, humanity, the light came into the world, but you loved darkness more than the light. God sent him to you, to liberate the world through him. For God so loved the world that he gave his Son! So that everyone who believes in him might never perish.”

Much of act eleven, the final act, takes place inside the proscenium and because of our seat we could not see it directly. But we could see the dramatic lighting indicating the resurrection. In some way perhaps that indirection closely represents the life of faith, where the glory of God can never be seen directly in this life and is always seen only in reflection. And Mary Magdalena, finding the empty tomb is sent by the Angel as a missionary to the apostles, and has the last word: “He is with us all the days until the end of the world! Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices! Oh, could I proclaim it throughout all the world, so that the mountains and cliffs and heaven and earth should re-echo with the words: Halleluja! He is risen!”

And thus, little Oberammergau was also raised from the plague to something more grand and more glorious than ever could have been expected by those villagers huddled together in fear 400 years ago. They wanted to do something beautiful for him, and I think he has greatly blessed it. Should the money have been better spent on the poor?

We stopped for coffee and Schnapps and red wine after the play. It was a lovely warm little quarter-timbered restaurant with a buxom Bavarian waitress wearing a starched white apron over a low-cut black and white peasant’s dress with puffed sleeves. There was a cheerful fire in the fireplace and it was gray and rainy outside.

Wow.

Slept soundly in our little bunk bed and didn’t fall out even once.

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