The events of Easter really communicate “the greatest story ever told.” At Blue we’ve heard from several thought leaders in the cinematic arts who reinforced the idea that all story-telling is a journey. We, as consumers, strive to be aware of how we both enjoy and translate these stories within the context our culture. This week we have a guest post by Mona Neff who is opening her home to us and sharing why her family loves Easter movies and the way that they shape the Easter experience.
Take it away, Mona!
(Image Source: At Home with Purvail)
Movies—old, new, funny, sad, action-packed, bible-based—often act as conversation starters for our family. We begin on the common ground of themes or particular scenes and talk our way into deeper issues. Like with any cultural touch point, I try to preview, or at least read reviews of, movies before I watch them with my teenage son. (Yes, I confess, I am one of those moms.) I try to anticipate his questions, but I’m almost always surprised by his perspective or the depth of his understanding or by the event that captured his interest. I usually see or learn something new from his viewpoint—and I love that.
Part of our Easter tradition includes watching movies that were inspired by Bible stories. Our favorites are “Ben-Hur” (1959, Charlton Heston in the title role, for which he won an Oscar) and “The 10 Commandments,” the 1956 epic with Charlton Heston (again) as Moses. Both movies are great film-making, and both bring epic stories to life.
Given our love of these films, I was excited when the History Channel broadcast “The Bible” last year during the Easter season. I held my breath as our family watched each episode. Would the show hold true to the Biblical narrative or would it be too “Hollywood”? Would it be overly violent? The Bible is a story filled with passion and danger, love and courage, but also lots of death. We DVRed each show and watched it with Bibles open. We’d pause the show, ask questions and look up answers.
On the whole, I count it as a positive experience for our family. The Bible can’t be beat for a good story, and the production values and acting were good enough that no one felt they had to apologize for God or to him. We did notice that the characters who were in close relationship with God—Abraham, Noah, Moses, David—all looked a bit wild in the eyes and seemed at the edge of crazy, but that might have been an accurate portrayal. If we were totally sold out to God, I think we would look a bit crazy, too. Of course, there was plenty of creative interpretation, and we loved the concept of angels as ninja warriors. More importantly, our family had meaningful discussions around what the shows portrayed, what the Bible said, the differences between the two and how either one related to our everyday lives. These discussions alone were worth the time spent holding my breath and watching.
The down side of the series hit us in the episode that included Jesus’ crucifixion. Most of that show focused on Jesus’ ministry. As you might guess, Jesus is an easy character to like. This Jesus was all the things that Jesus is in the gospels—compassionate, powerful, approachable, wise, compelling, and an amazing storyteller. What’s not to like? Our discussions took on a new intensity—we were inspired by him. And then, he died. He was betrayed by a follower, tortured at the hands of the priests and Pilate; condemned by a flash mob and abandoned by his friends. The Romans brutally crucified him, and finally, after a heart-breaking exchange with his mother, he died. All in HD on the 46”, flat-screen TV in our family room.
We sat in stunned silence at the end of the show. A heavy, burdened silence that I imagine was a micro version of how Jesus’ followers felt after he died. Unlike them, we knew that Jesus would rise—we only needed to wait until the next Sunday for our happier ending. Yet the feeling of sadness over losing our friend and hero was palpable and heavy. We were teary and not sure how to comfort each other. We talked about why Jesus died and all the suffering he endured for us. My husband and I tried to help our son see a personal but bearable perspective of Jesus’ death. But really, there wasn’t—there isn’t—a personal and bearable version that ends in Jesus’ death. It’s just personal—guilt, responsibility, sadness, death—and it’s awful.
So we did the only thing there was to do that night—we opened our Bibles and read the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. We read every account, first in Matthew, then Mark, Luke and John, flipping over to Acts for Luke’s account of Jesus rising into the clouds. Only in Jesus’ rising, in his victory over death, did we find comfort and hope. “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (Matthew 28:5-6 NIV)
Jesus, our friend and hero, lived—he does live. And that is good news we could hold onto until the next Sunday—and beyond. “Give praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us a new birth and a hope that is alive. It is alive because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3 NIV).
There are lots of Bible-inspired movies, and if you’re interested in exploring them, check out ebiblemovies.com for a pretty comprehensive list. “Ben-Hur” doesn’t make their list because the story focuses more on Judah Ben-Hur’s life than on Jesus. Still, it’s an epic film and available at Netflix and Amazon.