The visual language of Holy Week and Easter
Rev Gill O'Neill
Imagine a painting in a gallery: one of those expansive scenes with many characters, colour, movement, depth and encounter. Imagine returning to that gallery every year to spend time with that compelling painting, and each time discovering something new, a particular expression on a face, or the angle of a hand, the role played by a particular colour, a tiny detail in the background, or a feature that reaches beyond the canvas and almost pulls you into the scene. Over the years, these experiences build and thicken, and you come to carry around with you your own quite vivid version of this painting in your mind’s eye, and it crops up in your thoughts, and connects with your life, almost like a friend with whom you have a longtime, ongoing conversation.
I think this is one way in which liturgy works, and especially the liturgy of Holy Week and Easter. The Easter Triduum (meaning three days) takes us through those three days described in the gospels, the last three days of Jesus’ death and resurrection; Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day. A particular feature of these services is that they simply retell those gospel narratives, and do so in a way that emphasises experience, allowing us to enter into the narrative as we might imaginatively enter into a painting, retelling, almost reliving the story. In visual language, with colour, movement, word and action, we bring the story alive in our midst. Each year we find new truths we had not previously spotted, new pennies drop, and new aspects of the narrative strike us in new ways. This year, I was especially taken by the way in which Holy Week and Easter are so thoroughly biblical, staying very close to the texts, simply retelling and not offering too heavy-handed an interpretation, and, I like to think, allowing space for the Spirit.
Though covid measures did alter some of our usual practices, this was the first time we had been able to offer the full Holy Week experience since 2019. From Palm Sunday to Easter Day, the services gave us depth and joy, and, I hope, space to encounter the risen Christ, the longtime friend, who invites us all into generous and spacious relationship.
The women followed Jesus’ body after his death so they knew exactly where he was buried. What a powerful moment when Jesus called ‘Mary’ by her name. Mary Magdalen, a woman, was the first disciple to see the resurrected Jesus.
The experience of Jesus during his ministry and after his death brought out the love the disciples had for each other. We continue this today.
Women of Holy Week is published by Church House Publishing 2022
TV review: Heartstopper
Rev Gill O'Neill
I was completely charmed by a recent Netflix series aimed at teenagers. Heartstopper is a sweet and heartwarming series about young love, based on the YA graphic novel series by Alice Oseman. The series is set in a boys’ grammar school and follows a 14/15 year old ‘nerd’ Charlie, who falls for the school rugby star, Nick. Their friendship turns into something more, and the series sensitively follows the characters’ lives as they navigate some tricky topics, such as discovering one’s identity, the impact of bullying, coming out to friends and parents, and handling anxiety and insecurity. While it is a little escapist and possibly idealised, it allows for the exploration of these narratives, shared by many young people today, with gentleness and without trauma or judgement. It also manages to tell these stories without bad language, alcohol or drugs, nor any sexually explicit content. With Olivia Colman and Stephen Fry in supporting roles, it is family-friendly viewing.
I do not think that television has seen such a joyful portrayal of young gay relationships ever before, and I am sure it represents an enormously significant development in the positive representation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans characters on screen. I am glad that from now on, our young people will be able to reference this beautiful depiction of friendship and love. Do watch it if you can, I think it will inspire our collective imagination as we seek to make our church an inclusive and affirming space for all.
Available on Netflix
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