BANGOR – The early arrival of Easter this year may have numbed the bodies of Maine’s Christians, but it did not chill their spirits as they gathered in churches, on hilltops, along riverfronts and in school gymnasiums to celebrate their risen savior.
Aurelia Snow, 17, and Jamie Snow, 14, huddled together Sunday morning at the base of the landmark Thomas Hill Standpipe that overlooks Bangor. Their eclectic Easter garb included four layers of pants, shirts and socks each, topped off with their winter coats and blankets off their beds.
As the sun peeked over the horizon about 6:30 a.m., the girls and more than 70 other worshippers celebrated the light Christ’s Resurrection brought to the world.
“Christ the Lord is risen today. Alleluia!” members of two of Bangor’s oldest Baptist churches sang as a cold wind found its way up pant legs and inside zippered down coats.
“Sons of men and angels say: Alleluia!” they continued, accompanying the song with a crescendo of stamping feet as the mercury crept toward the 20 degree mark.
The Columbia Street and Essex Street Baptist churches have been holding the joint Easter sunrise service at the water tower for so many years, no one Sunday morning could remember when it began.
“I think they’ve always done it,” said the Rev. Peter Sprague, pastor of Columbia Street Baptist, noting that the ministers take turns leading the services. This year, it was Sprague’s turn.
Four hours later and a few miles south, members of St. Matthew Catholic Church of Hampden and St. Gabriel Catholic Church of Winterport, along with their friends and families, filled the gym at Hampden Academy. Nearly 1,000 people attended the Mass that drew more than twice the number of worshippers that gather for weekly weekend services at the two churches.
The Rev. Robert Vaillancourt, the priest who serves the two parishes, moved the service to the school gym last year after the Easter service outgrew St. Matthew’s, which holds about 300 people, and St. Gabriel’s, which can seat 120.
“It’s a joy to have both communities together in one room,” said Vaillancourt, who celebrated a similar Mass at Brewer High School with members of St. Teresa Catholic Church on South Main Street in Brewer before rushing to Hampden.
Wesley Woods, 18, of Hampden became a Catholic at the Easter Vigil service held Saturday night at St. Matthew’s. He began attending the church’s youth group with friends from Hampden Academy, where he is a senior. He decided last year to become a Catholic even though, he said Sunday, he does not agree with all of the church’s doctrine.
“I talked with Father Bob a little bit about it,” Woods, whose parents do not attend church, said after the Mass. “One of the things he said was that even though there may be a few things someone disagrees with in the church, it still offers so much more that people can live with those few differences.”
Woods said he doesn’t agree that only those Christians who have received the blood and body of Christ in Communion will go to heaven.
“I believe a lot of other people besides just Catholics are going to heaven,” he said, “but I really enjoy coming to Mass and being part of the community. Over the past year, I’ve become a lot closer to God.”
Although Christians around the world celebrate Easter every year, they haven’t celebrated Christ’s Resurrection so early in March since 1913, according to the Astronomical Society of South Australia’s Web site on Easter dating methods. They won’t do so again until 2160.
Since A.D. 326, Easter has fallen between March 22 and April 25. It is set on the Sunday after the Paschal full moon. That full moon does not correspond to any astronomical event, but is a historical artifact determined from tables set in the 16th century as March 20, according to the ASSA.
Eastern Orthodox Christians do not celebrate Easter until after the Jewish Passover holiday because Christ’s Last Supper was a Passover Seder. Passover will begin at sundown Saturday, April 19, and Orthodox Easter will be on April 27.
Sprague said that because Easter was so early this year, it probably was colder than usual at the Standpipe. Because daylight-saving time began on March 9, earlier this year than it has in the past, the service started about 30 minutes to an hour later than it usually has, he said.
Despite the cold and the early hour, Aurelia Snow said, “it’s still the best day in the world.”
“He hung on the cross for three days and rose again,” she said. “I think we can get up early and stand in the cold one day a year to worship him.”