I MUST HAND IT to Father Theodor Riechmann. As outlandish as his idea was, it was already proving a stroke of genius for the mending of our community. The people of Rundschau, who just an hour earlier had filed into the church as if for their own funeral, were now transformed.
Around me in the congregation, I heard expressions of excitement from every direction, as if a crowd of children had just been told they were going to the fair. How amazing this seemed to me! The danger was still present; the plague lurked silently in our homes, ready to show itself; but our fears had melted away. No longer were we simply waiting to die; we were part of something new and fascinating, a divine act—the Mysteria.
What an amazing creature man is! One moment he may seem utterly crushed by misfortunes; then suddenly he sees a truly worthy meaning and purpose to them, and he’s ready to stand beside you shoulder to shoulder, steadfastly facing whatever else life throws your way.
But what, exactly, was this Mysteria supposed to look like? Big Reinecke the blacksmith was first to call out this question that morning in the church, as he ran his fingers through his red beard. He wasn’t alone in wondering about this. Of course, at one time or another, most of us had traveled to Linden or elsewhere for holidays and seen there what was called a passion play. And one Christmas, Lothar and I happened to witness a performance which a Linden street-banner announced as a “Great and Amazing Presentation in Five Acts with Prologue and Intermission about the Birth of Christ, the Adoration of the Magi, and Herod’s Massacre of the 14,000 Infants in Judean Bethlehem.” It was a puppet show—but this was not, I gathered, what Father Theodor had in mind.
As the noise of the crowd died away, our priest stepped down from the pulpit to further explain. We would simply enact from the Gospels, line by line, the holy Passion of our Lord—and do it right outside our doors in Rundschau. This way we would glorify the Lord not only with our voices, as happens when one simply reads the Gospels aloud, but with our whole bodies and even with the streets of our village! Father Riechmann also added that the mass that we just had was in a way reenacting the Lord’s Supper, and that during this reenactment a mystery of sacrament (called Mysteria in Latin) takes place.
He also said we must do this as soon as possible. “Time is short, my children. Our lives hang by a thread, and any of us could be struck ill any moment.”
This reminder in no way dampened our excitement. Rather, prominent voices in the congregation called out ideas and suggestions that were eagerly affirmed by other voices, and the Mysteria began taking on a practical shape in our minds.
It was decided that our procession for the Mysteria would begin at the house of Stolz the woodcutter—our village’s first house on the main road coming from Linden. The procession would then move up our main street—which climbed a slope—and end on the main square in front of the church and town hall. This plan was heartily commended by Judge Holgert, who’d learned so much during his studies in Bologna, and who pointed out that the path in Jerusalem along which Christ carried his cross went uphill for the most part. So too would our procession.
It was also decided that we would construct two wooden platforms. The first, in front of the Stolz house at the procession’s beginning, would represent the Praetorium of Pontius Pilate and his Roman soldiers; a scourging post would be added nearby. The second platform would rise on the main square to represent Golgotha; there the cross would be planted.
Such an undertaking was complex, but everyone agreed that a week was a suitable amount of time to prepare.
“Next Friday then,” announced Father Theodor, “a week from today—God willing—we’ll perform our Mysteria.”
Three marshals were chosen and put in charge of various aspects of the preparations. Deacon Andreas Vogt, being highly esteemed and literate, would coach and direct the actors, and also oversee the entire production. August Genscher the weaver volunteered to come up with costumes, shrouds, sashes, soldier standards, and whatever additional decoration was necessary.
The third marshal was my father, Hans-Heinrich Enke the harness-maker. He would be responsible for the necessary props such as weapons for the legionaries, Pilate’s wash basin, and so forth.
The congregation’s interest grew even keener as the moment came to begin assigning roles. With so many wanting to take part in the Mysteria, and with the number of speaking roles rather limited, this selection process might have become quite disorderly. Father Theodor, however, calmed everyone down with a reminder that the majority of us must be content with the honor of being spectators. But crowd scenes were required where a great many could participate, and moreover, everyone’s fullest efforts would be needed in the week-long preparations.
Now—who would take the major roles?
As before, respected voices in the congregation offered suggestions that were quickly met with favor. Judge Holgert was a natural fit for the role of Pontius Pilate, the procurator of Judea. Genscher the weaver and Fleische the innkeeper showed humble deference in being willing to portray two major culprits in our Savior’s death: the high priests Caiaphas and Annas. Young Paul Hofbauer, who was Fleische the innkeeper’s servant, would play John, the Lord’s beloved disciple.
Margreta Bern was chosen to play Mary Magdalene. For the role of Mary the mother of Jesus, we chose young Anna-Maria Schubert, the fiancée of Anton Stolz the woodcutter; her face was marked by quiet beauty and beautiful brown eyes.
Nervously, I myself called out a suggestion: that Veronika, the daughter of Genscher the weaver, be given the role of saintly Veronica—to be the one so moved with pity upon seeing Jesus carry his cross that she would offer him her veil to wipe his forehead. To my relief and gladness, this choice was met with immediate approval from the congregation, and with a blush on my bride-to-be’s face.
Then it fell to me and to young Klaus Zillendorf to be selected as Roman legionaries.
All this went smoothly. But the most prominent role remained unfilled, though this pressing question was doubtless on everyone’s mind. It was uttered aloud by the innkeeper, Eberhard Fleische: “Who will play the Savior himself, our Lord Christ?”
A moment earlier the church had been filled with lively conversation; now a baffled silence fell over the congregation. People looked at each other. Who would take it upon himself to portray the One who is both Lamb of God and Shepherd of our souls—to be sentenced and scourged in the Praetorium, to walk the way of the cross, to be crucified on Golgotha?
No one, of course, was about to nominate himself; we in Rundschau were not so presumptuous.
The silence deepened. Truly, there was no one worthy.
It was at this moment I realized how deeply serious—even terrifying—our undertaking was going to be. Those around me must have sensed this also.
Suddenly the right choice dawned on me. Of course! I should have realized it at once. After a deep breath, I opened my mouth to speak up again—when Reinecke the blacksmith beat me to the punch. Stroking his red beard, he spoke loudly the very name that was about to roll off my tongue.
The sound of voices again filled the church, expressing approval. Reinecke had hit the nail on the head.
I looked across the crowd toward Lothar. He wore the same stunned expression I’d seen while telling him the fate of Waldheim farm. He looked back and forth from Father Theodor to Reinecke the blacksmith, as if hoping one or both would quickly think better of this horrible idea, and reject it.
Instead, Father Theodor nodded and smiled at my friend. “Why not, Lothar?” he called out. “After all, you too are a shepherd!”