Oberammergau Teaches Us to Hope in the Cross
It was the year 1632 and Central Europe was suffering through the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War which had left the people in poverty and disease. The bubonic plague was the silent stalker at the door of ever house. For the tiny village of Oberammergau in southern Germany deaths from the plague rose from 1 per month in October of 1632 to over 20 per month by March 1633.
Faced with the doom of their entire town, the faithful people gathered at the cemetery where so many of their family and friends lay buried in graves all too new. With great trust they came to implore the mercy of God for an end to the plague.
The fruit of their prayer was an inspiration that would make the little town of Oberammergau famous even to this day. In a desperate yet hopeful bargain, the people promised God that if the He saw fit to protect them from the menace of the plague that they would conduct a special passion play in honor of the death and resurrection of Jesus to be repeated every 10 years for all time.
Truly these people had experienced a share in the Lord’s passion and it was to the passion of Christ that they looked with hope for deliverance. If the Father could give Jesus victory over death, surely he could help them.
Immediately following this fateful cemetery meeting and the precious vow entered upon therein, the deaths from the plague began to drop dramatically and finally came to a complete end. The people saw clearly the hand of God and the answer to their prayer. God had truly heard them and the people were overjoyed. They knew what they needed to do to express their thanks.
In 1634, these grateful people returned to the cemetery where they had first met in grief two years prior. This time, they met to give thanks. There, over the graves of those who had been taken all too soon by the plague they constructed a small stage and, with many of the townspeople taking part, they performed what they called “A Play of the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ”, the first of what would become known as the now famous Oberammergau passion play.
Perhaps a cemetery is not the place where we would expect so much drama. Yet, what place could be more fitting for entering into this ongoing cosmic battle of life and death. The people of Oberammergau came armed with a story, a story of the victory of the God of life over death.
Today we come to this church armed with the same story. The death of Jesus which we commemorate today causes us to gather in sadness, penance, remorse, and grief. Yet, we know that this same story is also the cause for our hope. Today the cross is our symbol of victory.