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TV review: Easter Day broadcasts, Heavenly Gardens with Alexander Armstrong, and Sacred Songs: The secrets of our hearts

17 April 2020


Pope Francis gives the Urbi et Orbi blessing during the Easter Sunday Mass in the Vatican Basilica on Easter Sunday

Pope Francis gives the Urbi et Orbi blessing during the Easter Sunday Mass in the Vatican Basilica on Easter Sunday

DID the Easter Day broadcasts from Canterbury and Rome confirm, by manner and content, our precon­cep­tions about their contrasting cha­risms? They could not have looked more different, and yet both re­­sponded powerfully to our global crisis. The Archbishop of Canterbury scrupulously observed the stric­tures under which he has placed the rest of us: although walking up a cor­ridor, down a staircase, and through a doorway brings him to his chapel, he filmed his resurrection eucharist in his kitchen.

The Pope, on the other hand, pro­nounced his Urbi et Orbi blessing (BBC1, Easter Day) from St Peter’s Basilica — but as none of us has ever seen it; for the vast expanses were empty. Pope Francis has never looked so isolated, standing (apart from his chaplain) alone, his solitude emblematic of our heartbreaking sep­­­­­­ar­a­­tion from one another. But, despite the grandeur of the setting, his message was intimate and pro­foundly con­nected to the realities of the world outside, in scale both personal and intimate in relation to all suffering from Covid-19, and also universal in scope. His heartfelt plea for peace, justice, welcome, and support for all the world’s victims was somehow neither swamped nor undermined by the gold and marble.

Archbishop Welby presented a dif­ferent gospel truth — that Jesus is among us in the most mundane moments of our everyday lives: every meal at the kitchen table, however humble, is, if we only recognise it, an encounter with the risen Lord.

This must have resonated deeply in houses (which, for some, feel like their sentence of solitary con­fine­ment) throughout the land. If the resurrection is not real in the heart of our homes, then is it real at all? The theological point might perhaps have been made even more strongly if it looked a bit less tidied away and more messy, more like a kitchen in which a meal was being prepared.

BBC1 marked Good Friday with Heavenly Gardens with Alexander Armstrong. Frustratingly, a more substantial programme, far better suited to the day, lurked just below its surface. As Armstrong showed us the grounds of Pluscarden Abbey, Sudeley Castle, and Hailes Abbey, hint after hint revealed that he knew and cared far more about their Chris­­­­­tian significance than the pop­ulist nature of the piece allowed him.

In Sacred Songs: The secrets of our hearts (BBC4, Easter Day), the choir Tenebrae performed a brilliant sequence of religious music, made ac­­­cording to the strictest current re­­­strictions. The singers recorded their parts at home, and these were then mixed together seamlessly. If only the repertoire had been for Easter rather than Pas­­sion­­tide: a distinction lost, ap­­par­ently, on BBC publicity.

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