I was recently at a gathering where people talked about their memories of Easter. Granted, it was a group of church folk, so stories of Easter dresses, sunrise services, and interminable Easter sermons abounded.
Having been raised by an atheist and a lapsed Methodist, I never went to church on Easter before I was in my twenties, and, having grown up in Manhattan, certainly saw no sunrise services. But I did celebrate Easter by myself.
What I did may sound sad – even a bit pathetic - but I loved it. On Easter Saturday I’d go to Gristedes and buy white eggs, dye and hot cross buns. I’d boil and dye the eggs and hide them around the apartment, trying to forget where I’d put them.
On Easter I’d wake as I always did way before my parents, and go into the long, dark entry hall where all the bookcases hid my eggs. Turning on the lights, I’d reach behind the books and feign surprise at the discovered treasures.
I'd heat the hot cross buns until the icing was bubbling -- they always burned a bit -- and go into my slice of a bedroom that had been a maid’s room in times past, and sit on the floor with my treat. And though I have no idea where I learned it, I’d play “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” on my tinker toy piano and sing as the sun poured through the window.
I honestly don’t know why I did this. My mother had been raised Episcopalian and knew every hymn in the hymnal by memory, so no doubt she would have been singing her little atheist-but-nostalgic heart out that week.
What hooked me on Easter was the sheer joy of it all, the peeling forth of church bells throughout the city, the flowers, the Sunday finery, the collective exclamation of spring, new beginnings and, yes, something more, something beyond the tangible expressions of celebration. That’s what got me most, I think. The enticing, mysterious idea that there is more at work in the world than I understood. Easter proclaims for everyone - the faithful, scientists, philosophers, artists - that endings can be beginnings. No matter how alone we may be, when we wonder at the world in what Dylan Thomas called “all its tuneful turnings,” we are, indeed, reaching beyond ourselves to something greater, something perhaps even holy.