All the old French towns have a church, and all the churches have bells. In the old days, when worship and tradition were part of the pastoral culture, these bells would ring three times a day. At sunrise, for morning prayers. At high noon, for afternoon prayers. And at sunset, for evening prayers. The bells would also ring for special occasions, such as weddings, funerals, or holidays.
On the Thursday before Easter every bell in every Church rang throughout the French countryside. Then there was silence for three days. Not a sound, not a vibration, no matter the occasion. As the sun rose on Easter Sabbath the silent bells rang out once more, echoing throughout the land and announcing the miracle of the resurrection of the Christian Savior.
The liturgy of ringing bells may seem quaint by today’s standards. Scholars have long shown the similarities between Christ and the saviors of the pagan cults, including Attis and Mithras. Historical exegesis of the New Testament text has sought to strip the stories of their miracles, placing the drama of Christ and his resurrection squarely in the realm of folklore and tradition.
The miracle of Spring, however, is just outside the scholar’s grasp. Despite excellent explanations by modern definitions of process, the power of the Cosmos to reignite life on this speck of blue in a sea of billions is as astonishing as the very first breath taken on it. Like the church bells of France, the universe rings in a new season out of stillness and decay. It did not have to be so. But it is. And no one really knows why.
In a cosmic context, the ringing bells are a call from the darkness. It is not a repetition of the previous tolling, but something unexpected and new. In the words of Joseph Campbell, “Only birth can conquer death–the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new” (Hero 16). Central to the Christian tradition is the death and new birth of God. Resurrecting God is not a process of repackaging the old, stale forms of religious icons or ideology. God is not a doctrine, just as Spring is not a mathematical formula. The fact the new birth of Spring takes place in a regular cycle that can be measured, numbered, and predicted, does not in the least diminish its wonder. The annual celebration of the new birth of God is an attempt to rediscover this wonder.
Like Cosmos, a meaningful God comes only by way of genesis. If dead, only a new birth will do. All over the world Easter Mass is celebrated, in many forms, under different names, within varying ideas, but every where the celebration of the new from the old is the same. Whatever one’s religious affiliation, the time of Spring is the best time of all to consider the reverence and beauty of life; with its gains and losses; with its hopes and failures; with the birth of a new thing overcoming the old. Here is a mystery no science can ever really solve. The mystery of life, death, and rebirth. All the greatest truths are the ones we have to take for granted. The ones that ring out just beneath the soul.