I think it was about 12 or 18 months ago or so that I watched the film, “Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage” (The Final Days).
The plot, of course, was hardly news to me. In fact, not long before I had been to the university building in Munich where the opening scene was shot, and where in fact that arrest took place in 1943. Yet as I watched the first ten or fifteen minutes of the film, the build-up to the arrest of Hans and Sophie Scholl, I felt a growing sense of panic. I felt like dragging them away from the moment where they decide to go back into the hallway to make sure that absolutely all of their leaflets are distributed. They had already distributed so much of it – this was a further risk just not worth taking, and it cost them their lives.
I felt almost the same visceral response to the arrest scene in a powerful performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion on Monday night at King’s College, Cambridge. (Never mind the privileged environment; that’s another story.) Both the gospel writer – on re-reading the passion narrative – and Bach really understood the reality of arrest and what it meant; and Bach – on top of that – creates an extraordinary scence with that desparate panic in the ‘participant observer/audience’. The Evangelist’s lines are thoughtfully laid out, and then there is that Chorus, twice: “Laßt ihn, haltet, bindet nicht!” (Leave him, stop, don’t bind him!”)
In the Protestant tradition, it has of late become quite commonplace to ignore the liturgical-theological movement of the ecclesiastical year. (Clearly that was not the case for Bach!) That this is a serious loss is nowhere more apparent than during Holy Week and Easter: to understand Easter, one has to go through Holy Week, every year, with a feeling of dread, panic and fear.