SARANAC LAKE — Starting at sunrise, local people went to church on Easter Sunday to celebrate God’s victory over death, as seen in the resurrection of his son Jesus roughly 2,000 years ago.
“We are right to celebrate this day as the holiest of all days, when … death itself is proved to be nothing more than a fleeting shadow,” the Rev. Andrew Cruz Lillegard said in his sermon at the Episcopal Church of St. Luke the Beloved Physician.
As spring overtakes winter and COVID-19 vaccinations outpace new outbreaks — here, at least — there was a noticeable sense of energy and hope at these religious gatherings.
Mary Brown was looking forward to the first in-person Quaker meeting since before the pandemic began. For more than a year now, Saranac Lake’s Quakers have been praying at home and having coffee hour online via Zoom.
“We’re excited,” Brown said after attending a separate Easter service at St. Luke’s. “There are not a lot of us, and we’re a close group, and it’s nice to be together in person. We’re vaccinated now, so we can do it. I think there will be some hugs.”
Different Christians celebrated in different ways. Whereas Quakers convene in silence, broken when one of them feels moved to speak, the evangelicals at High Peaks Church sang loud songs of praise Sunday, clapping and holding hands in the air as a band led the worship, and calling out hallelujahs in between songs.
A few hours earlier, the sun actually rose right in the middle of a short ecumenical sunrise service in Riverside Park, with the temperature a brisk 25 degrees. In years when Easter comes early, this annual tradition takes place in dim pre-dawn twilight, and when the holiday comes later, the sun peeks over McKenzie Mountain before people congregate. This year hit the sweet spot.
The Rev. Eric Olsen, pastor of Saranac Lake’s Lutheran and Methodist churches, welcomed the “crazy Christians” who turned out at 6:30 a.m. — 31 people and one dog — and led them in singing “Morning Has Broken.” As at every Easter service, there was a reading of the Bible story in which — after Jesus was executed because his teaching upset Jewish religious leaders — some of his followers went to tend to his body but found the tomb empty.
At St. Luke’s early service, Cruz Lillegard said these women were coming not only to tend Jesus’ broken body but also their own broken hearts.
“Hope had been shamelessly executed,” he said, “lying in some unmarked, shallow grave, perhaps beside his sister, Love.”
The boulder that covered the tomb’s entrance was immovable, he said, a wall separating the dead from the living. It represents “permanent separation from hope and love … death itself.”
So imagine their amazement, he said, when they found the boulder rolled away and they peered into “nothing more, nothing less, than an empty tomb.
“Suddenly that hope, the hope of resurrection, becomes the new immovable reality, should they choose to accept. … Nothing will ever be the same again.”
A couple of hours later at 10 o’clock Mass, St. Bernard’s Catholic Church had bright new decorations and was more full than it has been in months. Two out of every three pews were cordoned off for social distancing, and when they couldn’t fit any more, people were seated in chairs around the edges.
The Rev. Martin Cline said people are better able to live good lives when they have confidence in the future.
“When we have future hope, everything changes,” he said. “For us, there is a change in the air this day.”