facebook.com/robbylarson twitter.com/robbylarson

Friday, April 22, 2011

a fresh perspective on an old story

It has been almost a year since I was fortunate enough to travel to alpine Europe to see the world-famous Passion Play at Oberammergau, Germany. I've thought about that experience often in the months that followed, and I've written numerous blog posts about it, in my head. (I apologize that you haven't had the chance to read them. Rest assured, they've been really well-written.) But as the calendar reached Holy Week, the impact of the play has rushed back, having altered forever my understanding and appreciation of God's atoning work through his Son accomplished during Holy Week.

The play itself is a beautifully poignant display of Jesus' final days on Earth. From its opening scene of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem with more than 1,000 people on stage waving palm fronds and shouting "Hosanna!", the tone is set for the telling of this timeless story, by which eternity itself was shaped. I expected the play to be good. After all, people have been making pilgrimages to this quaint mountain hamlet to see it performed for over 400 years. But I also had what seemed to be logical apprehensions of a play lasting five hours and conducted entirely in German (have I mentioned that I don't know German?). Without a doubt, every apprehension I had was summarily dismissed. The play was epic, and not in the way that a college student describes a memorable night on the town. Its impact on me was nothing short of profound. When it ended, I remember walking across town to the Pension Enzianhoff wrapped in awestruck wonder.

Last night, I thought about the scene that impacted me most: Jesus' prayer and arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. To understand what made this moment so memorable, let me provide some context. The auditorium has seating for 5,000, all of which is covered to protect the audience from the elements. The stage, on the other hand, is open air. Throughout the day the sun was bright and the sky was brilliant blue, as one would imagine it should be in the Alps. During the first half of the play, however, clouds appeared and slowly the blue sky was hidden entirely.

No doubt the story is familiar to many of us. Jesus enters the garden with several of his disciples to pray. It is here that the Son of God agonizes over the knowledge of what He has been sent to do, to accomplish. His soul is troubled by the ultimate test of surrendering one's will to that of the Father. He fervently cries out to the Lord, praying that if another course is possible He would welcome it, and if not, He would embrace his cup. So passionate are his prayers that He is sweating blood. All of this while his disciples have fallen asleep. I imagine that this scene is powerful to all who see, but it was different for those that watched it that night in June.

As Jesus walked to center stage, knelt down, and began to pray, remarkably a ray of sunlight split the clouds and fell precisely where Jesus was praying. You must know that this was not special lighting, nor any theatrically produced occurrence. The sunlight pierced the auditorium from low on the horizon in a way that only God himself could have orchestrated. Even the actors seemed to be inspired by the Lord's special effects and timing with the appearance of the angel that God sent to comfort Jesus as he prayed. The short burst of sunlight faded and moments later the mob of soldiers, Judas leading the way, entered the stage to arrest the Savior. Again, God showed up. After Jesus restored the soldier's ear cut off by Peter, an ever-so-light rain began to fall. It continued as the soldiers bound Jesus and slowly led him off stage. It was a refreshing rain. Cleansing. Not angry or hard. And in some ways it was an assuring rain, as if the Lord were illustrating that He was in control then, and he is still in control today. That all of this took place for His glory alone, so that He might wash and restore each one of us.

At the conclusion of the scene, the 50-person choir entered the stage and powerfully sang these words:
The battle of agony has begun,
begun at Gethsemane.
You sinner, take this to heart,
never forget this scene!
For your salvation this took place,
what you saw on Mount Olive.
"Never forget this scene." How could I? Why would I ever let myself do such a thing? The Lord showed up. He stirred my heart. He game me a tangible image of his love and sovereignty.

As we continue Holy Week, I hope that you too will be stirred by His faithfulness. "Take this to heart, never forget this scene! For your salvation this took place, what you saw on Mount Olive."


ScottH said...

Thank you Robby. This was a very moving post.