Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

A.D. The Bible Continues premieres tomorrow night (Easter Sunday) @ 9:00 PM (ET) on NBC.

Synopsis: Epic dramatization of the Book of Acts begins with the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and follows the persecution and dangers by His followers in the early years of His Church.

Review: Simply put, A.D. The Bible Continues is the sort of excellent television that’s not generally found on the broadcast networks anymore. With lush big-screen production values, terrific acting, well-paced writing and a timeless story that unabashedly proclaims the Resurrection of Jesus Christ to be true, there is not much I can see to complain about here and a lot to really appreciate.

While NatGeo’s recent presentation of Killing Jesus (based on Bill O’Reilly’s book and being rerun opposite A.D. on Fox News Channel) purported to focus on the political maneuverings surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, A.D. does so in a far more focused and compelling manner. And, in clearly presenting the Resurrection as true, something Killing Jesus shied away from, the story has a mystical and dramatic power that the Bill O’Reilly production simply can’t match.

Also, unlike Killing Jesus, A.D. is planned as an ongoing weekly series covering the history of the Early Church. And, as series premieres go, Episode 1 (titled The Tomb is Broken) pulls you right into its world with unusual skill. I’d probably have to go all the way back to Lost to find a premiere episode that was as effective in making me want to come back for more. A.D. has tremendously interesting complex and human characters we immediately care about. Adam Levy, for example, is terrific as Peter, the flawed saint who goes on to lead the Christian movement. It also has a captivating story to tell that is at once fantastic and true. A.D. is loaded with suspense as the Early Christian must navigate a hostile and dangerous world (making it chillingly timely). Watching these outnumbered, diverse and imperfect people push on and persevere as they change the world is inspirational. It’s also a story that will, I think, offers an enthralling narrative for young people who are often caught up in such things as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones.

A.D. stands for Anno Domini which is Latin for “in the year of our Lord.” On TV, it now also stands for “Awesome Drama.” Where A.D. goes after its first season and it has gone through the Book of Acts is a good question but, based on what I’ve seen so far, I have confidence that the saga of the Early Church is in good hands. I’m hopeful that A.D. has many seasons ahead.  A.D. The Bible Continues is Strongly Recommended.   

Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact and Forgery (Episode 6) – The Gospel of Mary Magdalene airs Easter Sunday (4/6) @ 9:00 PM (ET) on CNN.

Synopsis: An exploration into what is known and speculated about Mary Magdalene and her relationship with Jesus.

Review: The final episode (at least for now) of CNN’s six-part documentary series offers a fascinating examination into what the Bible and other ancient documents (including a text actually called The Gospel of Mary) tell us — and hint about — the person who Jesus first revealed himself to following His Resurrection. While the hour contains the expected Da Vinci Code-type speculation about a romantic relationship and marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, it doesn’t come across as having sensationalism as its goal since it does offer solid and interesting alternatives to those theories (which have to be acknowledged).

The program does make a point that the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are considered more reliable than the other discovered texts for the good reason that they are believed to have been written closer to the period of Jesus’ life on Earth and are more likely to reflect the observations of people who actually witnessed the events. The other documents may not be reliable history but they do offer some insight and commentary regarding the controversies of the Early Church (i.e. the role of women).

The documentary is perhaps at its most interesting when its focus is on Mary as one of the few people who stood by Jesus to the very end. As Jesuit priest Father James Martin says her “ministry of presence” is an inspirational example of how simply being there for someone undergoing a tough period (which the crucifixion certainly epitomizes) even if we are powerless to do anything else can be the essence of Christianity. His insight as to how Mary Magdalene basically was the Church during those hours when she was the only one who knew of the Resurrection is also something to think about.

Though you might want to DVR it to catch A.D. on NBC, Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact and Forgery (Episode 6) – The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is Recommended.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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