About a month ago I got the opportunity to see the Passion Play in Oberammergau as well as many “Luther” sites in Germany, it was a great trip. After having a bit of a chance to reflect on the play (and look over the translation, this time in full light), I thought I’d share with you a few thoughts.
First of all, I must say that the play as a play was beautifully done: the costumes were amazing; the scenery, especially the living pictures, were gorgeous; the acting was fantastic. The story itself was very compelling. The thing is, the story that was told, was in fact, not the Good News of the Gospel.
About 40 years ago, a group of Jews boycotted the play because they felt that it was anti-semitic. In plays since then, the script has been modified to be sensitive to their concerns. This year (or this decade, as the play runs once every 10 years), the script was overhauled and a very liberal theological advisor, Professor Ludwig Mödl, and director were chosen – both of whom, from the statements that they have made publically, do not believe that Jesus was actually God incarnate nor truly believe in the historicity of the resurrection. Their emphasis in the play was to point out Jesus’ Jewishness.
This in and of itself, emphasizing Jesus’ Jewishness and tying in many Old Testament themes is commendable. However, where I part from the director and theological advisor is that in intentionally removing things from the Passion story, they have in fact, removed the Gospel from the play.
Three things really jump out. The first is that Jesus’ humanity (which as Christians we confess) is emphasized to the exclusion and even denial (or at least doubt is cast) of His divinity. The second, is that in playing to the sensitivities to those who claimed the Passion Play is anti-semitic a major theme is missing. For instance, the line shouted by the crowd, “His blood be upon us and on our children” was removed (this also was removed from the subtitles of Gibson’s “The Passion”). The thing is that yes this means that the crowd did indeed bear the guilt for Christ’s death… and that’s why it is actually good news. The blood from the innocent ram was sprinkled on the priests (Exodus 29:21) foreshadowed Christ’s blood which covers us all and is the very thing that brings forgiveness of sins. Thus Christ’s death comes not at the hands of sinners, but at the hands of injustice in “the system.” Finally, the resurrection itself is significantly downplayed to almost an afterthought.
Yes the Passion is scandalous, as it well should be and must be. The last thing that should be done is to shy away from the scandal, but instead to point to the very scandal of the Cross and proclaim the Good News that the scandal brings: the free gift of forgiveness through the atoning sacrifice of God-in-the-flesh, Jesus Christ.