A tradition since 1634, the city of Oberammergau’s magnificent, open-air performance of Christ’s Passion has taken place every 10 years. The performance takes place on a massive scale, with more than 2,000 performers and technicians–all from Oberammergau–who make the script and score into a reality. From start to finish, a single showing of the play takes about 5 hours, with scenes from the Old and New Testaments, music, a choral accompaniment, and a break for dinner. The fact that this tradition has lasted for centuries is a testament to both the devotion of the people of Oberammergau and the grace of God.
Over the play’s almost 400-year-long history, it has rarely been postponed, and only been cancelled once. If everything had gone according to plan, the most recent performance would have taken place starting in the spring of 2020, which was delayed because of COVID.
Luckily for us, the Passion Play scheduled for 2020 was only postponed, not cancelled, and it will be performed during the spring and summer of 2022. And the reason for the play’s postponement to 2022 showcases the origins of the Passion Play in a unique way.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the area around Oberammergau was suffering under the bubonic plague, a sickness which had not yet reached the Oberammergau itself. When it did, in 1633, its effects were devastating. According to local legend, half of the city’s population was quickly killed by the infection. The remaining citizens then came together and made a vow that if God spared them from the plague, they would put on a performance of Jesus’ life and death every ten years in thanksgiving, a practice which began in 1634.
Obviously there are some key differences between the COVID-19 pandemic and the plague that swept through Oberammergau hundreds of years ago, but the play’s most recent postponement calls to mind the ways in which we can learn from the citizens of Oberammergau who put on the first play hundreds of years ago. Like us, they grieved the losses the sickness caused them. Like us, their lives were drastically changed. But what we can learn from them–and hopefully celebrate with them–is the fact that our faith is one of hope and new life.
The God who inspired the people of Oberammergau to put on the first Passion Play in 1634 is the same God who loves us now. It is that love that we will see portrayed on stage next summer in Oberammergau–sacrificial love that comes with the promise of healing and renewal.
To see the beauty of this historic play in person, travel with Verso Ministries on a pilgrimage to Oberammergau July 13 – 22, 2022! Registration is now open. We’ll have the chance to see sacred and historic sights in Switzerland and Germany, from ancient monasteries to picturesque castles, and we’ll finish the trip with the Passion Play–the grand finale.