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Arts Resources for Holy Week and Easter
by Brendan O'Regan Arklow CBS

It's not quite as easy as doing the Christmas story, but there are still some useful arts resources out there which should assist us in conveying the Holy Week and Easter story. The film biographies of Jesus are a good starting point.


I still find Jesus of Nazareth, with Robert Powell as Jesus, to be the best version to go for - it's respectful, straightforward, visually attractive, with Powell hypnotic in the central role. However I have noticed of late that some of my male students laugh when they see Powell arrive on screen as he is surrounded by an invisible "aura". The post-resurrection scenes are short but moving (see clip above, for example). The follow-up scene is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2EvoVYC2jA

BBC's Passion, with Joseph Mawle as Jesus, went for a more naturalistic approach - in fact in the opening scenes it took me a while to figure out which character was Jesus. This version is now available on DVD, and while I don't like some aspects of it (e.g. the way Mary is portrayed), they do a great job of the Last Supper, and the way the Resurrection is presented is really innovative - having two other actors playing Jesus as a way to convey the difficulty Mary Magdalene and the disciples on the road to Emmaus had in recognising him.

Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ poses problems - for the most part I think it's too violent and graphic for school use, but I do use the striking Gethsemane scene with older groups, and there are some touching moments on the way of the cross, like when he meets his mother, or when he is helped by Simon. Apart from being available on DVD, there are many extracts from these films and the other Jesus films on YouTube.

Many poets have teased out the Holy Week/Easter story. That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and On the Comfort of the Resurrection by Gerard Manley Hopkins is a tough one to take on in RE class, but the more specific references to the Resurrection are reasonably accessible - "Enough! The Resurrection'/A heart's clarion! Away grief's grasping, joyless days, dejection". Metaphysical poet George Herbert has a few poems on the season - Easter is a clever one where Herbert urges himself to praise the risen Lord with "both heart and lute" - an interesting combination of how the emotions and the arts join together to celebrate a biblical event. In Easter Wings he wants to join Christ in his resurrection: "With Thee/O let me rise,/As larks, harmoniously,/And sing this day Thy victories:" His Easter Song is short but more difficult, contrasting the rising of Jesus ("Thou wast up by break of day") with the "sun arising in the East". In The World is not Conclusion Emily Dickinson expresses a belief in the next life, and points out how people have endured even crucifixion to hold onto this faith. Gerard Kelly's Because He is Risen: a poem for Easter is modern and very accessible. The message of hope is crystal clear: "Because he is risen/Spring is possible/In all the cold hard places/Gripped by winter".

When it comes to music there is plenty to choose from. The classics are familiar - the Old Rugged Cross, Nearer My God to Thee and the like, but there are some modern contemporary songs that may well appeal to our young students. My current favourite is Christ the Lord is Risen Today, a soft rock version of the traditional hymn, from Ashley Cleveland's album "Men and Angels Say" (be patient with the bagpipes intro!). A soulful rendition ofMy Redeemer Lives by Mark Heard from his "High Noon" compilation is a ringing statement of belief in the Resurrection. The album Look at Christ by Sal Solo is a soft rock version of the Rosary, and the songs that convey the sorrowful mysteries are well done - e.g. Take This Cup Away From Me. There is also of course a song about resurrection - Why Do You Look Surprised?. This album is hard to find now, but some of the songs are Solo's compilation album "Yes! Best of Studio and Live". These are particularly good for school folk groups.

Whenever I'm looking for a song to capture some spiritual or seasonal theme I look up the music of John Michael Talbot - Would You Crucify Him? is a challenging song from the album "John Michael Talbot", while He is Risen! is on the album "No Longer Strangers" and "The Talbot Brothers Collection".
Michael Card recorded a trilogy on the life of Christ and the songs dealing with Holy Week (on the album "Known by the Scars") are particularly good - Come to the Table captures the Last Supper and Eucharist, while Why? asks some painful questions - "Why did it have to a friend that chose to betray the Lord?". Most albums referred to are readily available from the likes of Ebay, Amazon, and the websites of the artists. Individual songs may be available from music download sites (e.g. 7digital.com).
Many can be streamed from sites like Spotify.

Liam Lawton's music also provides plenty of opportunities to develop Holy Week and Easter themes - Lament of the Virgin (Song of the Celtic Soul); Pieta: Silence and the Sorrow, My God My God, Exsultet, Send Forth your Spirit (Ancient Ways Future Days); So Longs my Soul (In the Quiet)


An internet image search should find plenty of imagery relating to Easter. Ancient and modern pictures in the Icon style are also readily available and so many of the classical painters tried their hand at the events of Holy Week and the Resurrection - these could be compiled into a Powerpoint presentation. There are some striking modern versions as well -For example David Begley's Resurrection, the original of which can be seen in the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Bunclody, Co. Wexford, should provide plenty of opportunity for reflection and discussion (www.davidbegley.com) . I've used Chris Gollon's modern Stations of the Cross as well (www.chrisgollon.com) - because the pictures are so unusual and modern there's a chance they will break through the expectations of classical piety.


Gathering the resources is one job, how to use them effectively is the next challenge - with the videos I'd show short clips with plenty of discussion, perhaps with worksheets to get the students thinking first. The poetry can be read, studied, discussed and even performed . Small groups within the class can be assigned poems to discuss and could come up with a presentation to the full class. The music can be used for reflection in the prayer room, for discussion in class, for performance in prayer services. The artwork can be discussed or used with music as a focus for meditation (e.g. in a presentation created with Powerpoint, Photostory, Google Slides or Emaze, . While all these resources can make for some engaging classes, far better to get the students producing their own creative work - I've spent many interesting classes talking to students as they work on their own drawings and posters, and the Holy Week and Easter story certainly lends itself to visual presentation. Or why not get the students writing and presenting/performing their own Easter poems?

A version of this article originally appeared in An Tobar, a magazine from the Christian Brothers' support service.

(Web page revised April 2017)

Additional Resources:

The Cross by Johnny Duhan

Love Will Tear Us Apart - Darren Morfitt, from BBC's Manchester Passion
A modern re-imagining of the Last Supper.  



Don't Cry for Me - song about Jesus on the Way of the Cross, by Sal Solo.  

Spotify Easter Playlist



Resurrection by Johnny Duhan.



Clip from BBC's The Passion. Disciples meet risen Jesus on road to Emmaus. 2 actors play Jesus, to acount for the disciples not recognising Jesus at first.