I just wanted to take the opportunity to wish every one of my readers a very Happy Easter.
My Easter began the same way it has for a couple of years now, with my getting up at stupid-o’clock in the morning to watch the sunrise. This harks back to my teenage years, when I lived in London. The churches in my town would hold a sunrise service on a hillside outside town that gave stunning views across North-West London. (Not that the grey and grainy photo particularly does it justice).
My parents would often go away for Easter, leaving us teenage siblings home alone, and (despite not being a morning person) I would drag my sleep deprived body out of bed and creep out of the house while my two big brothers (like every other sensible person) still slept. I’d hitch a lift with friends and stand shivering in a hilltop car park to hear the words of the Easter story and sing hymns to the strains of an accordion as the sun came up above town.
Every year, despite having council permission to gather there, we’d await the familiar sight of a passing police patrol car, sent to check us out due to numerous calls from early-morning runners and dog-walkers that a strange religious cult was holding a suspicious ceremony in an isolated car park next to local woodland. (Our little dawn ceremony was nowhere near as exciting or mysterious as the locals seemed to imagine it, but it amused my teenage self to realise they thought our fairly mundane service might be.)
The churches in my current town held a similar service when I was a student, in a hilltop park just minutes from my old home, and every year my former housemates and I would decide the night before that we probably wouldn’t bother, and yet invariably find ourselves getting up for it anyway.
Of all the things I miss about the way I used to celebrate Easter, the sunrise service, for some unfathomable reason, is the one I miss most of all. Perhaps because as a kids worker, musician and Sunday School teacher, it was the one event of the Easter period where I had absolutely no responsibilities. So, now that I am well enough, I choose to recreate it in my own manner. I open the curtains to watch the sunrise, read the Easter lectionary and liturgy for myself, and think of all the Christians, both known to me and strangers, gathered in churches, homes and even on hilltops, all around the world, to celebrate the most important day of the Christian calendar.
The one advantage of watching the sunrise from the comfort of my own home, instead of yawning in a cold field or car park is that I can stay in my pyjamas, wrapped in a nice warm quilt and go back to bed for an hour or so when my little vigil is finished. A luxury that in the past, with three church services, pre-service music practice, dinner with friends and an afternoon walk or trip out somewhere, I simply didn’t have.
And while I miss the company of family and friends and the fellowship of other Christians on this important day of remembrance and celebration, I realised long ago, that taking care of my metal and spiritual health is as important, if not more so, than anything I do for my physical health. It is easy when you are chronically ill (and especially housebound) to get stuck in ruts where the days just merge together and every day starts to feel the same. So I try to find small ways of marking high days and holidays, by wearing different clothes, eating different foods, or changing my habits to try and make them different from my normal routines and rhythms. Even when I can’t celebrate in the way I might like to, I try to make a point of marking these days intentionally, creating my own personal traditions to replace the (now impossible) ones I inherited in healthier days.
So for the last three years, this dawn vigil has been my Easter tradition. So far, without fail, it has proven too wet, misty, or cloudy to actually see the sunrise, and every year I wonder, as I drag my sleep-deprived body out of bed so early, why on earth I put myself through this. Yet every year I do it anyway. It doesn’t change much in the grand scheme of things: my symptoms have been the same today as any other, and the rest of the day with its medication, physiotherapy, rest-times and carers will be unremarkable too. But by doing just one thing that’s a little bit different, it helps set this day apart and makes it that bit special so when the days ahead start to blur into one again, I have one distinct thing I can look back and smile about.
If nothing else, I think we should all occasionally take the time to sit and watch the sunrise (though I know a number of shift workers who will probably disagree with me). And who knows, perhaps next year the weather might be good enough to actually see a sunrise! I can only hope.
So whether Easter is a religious time for you, or just a time for friends and family, whether you spend it with others or will spend it alone, I pray that each of you finds your own unique way of making this day a special one.
Happy Easter to all of you.