It was cold and windy when I hung the sign on a tree near where the bridge touches the island announcing that again this Easter there would be a sunrise service, at 6 a.m., on Sandy Point here on Cousins Island. I knew the tide would be out. It always is on Passover and Easter. Their dates are set by the cycles of the moon. But no one could be sure of the weather. With the winter we’ve had one thing was sure, it would be cold.

Each Easter morning for the past dozen years or so, we build a fire on Sandy Point beach before the sun has risen. All who want to begin Easter at sunrise with worshipers hardy enough to brave an early spring morning in Maine are welcome, with no offering taken.

Saturday was miserable, cloudy and windy with flurries and spitting rain. Sunday dawned with below freezing temperatures, clear skies and no wind. Still, I wasn’t sure how many would brave the day to be there. The Revs. Judith Blanchard and Kent Allen had agreed to share leadership in the service with me, and Art Bell volunteered to build and mind the fire. There was a good chance there would be four of us at least.

When I arrived in the predawn light, two friends were already in the parking lot and Art was right behind me. We picked our way to the beach and others arrived. A nearly full moon was just above the bridge in the western sky and the eastern horizon was lightening, as more worshipers appeared. I had printed up 60 orders of service and we ran out but everyone was willing to share.

People new to the service were in our gathering as were many of us who recognized one another from Easter morns past. Most of us were of various Christian backgrounds, some churchgoers, some not. Some were there alone or to be with friends and may or may not have identified as believers.

What drew us there? Certainly it had much to do with the gorgeous setting and the fresh drama of an Easter morning on the water at sunrise. It also had to do with intimacy; it is an intimate service for no other reason than we each clearly wanted to be there, otherwise we’d still be in bed. Our presence bonded us.

It also has to do with a common confession, not of dogma but of longing and hope. We are there to affirm long-held or newly considered faith in the grandest of spiritual mysteries and Christian claims, that at the center of existence is a resurrecting faithful reality whose name, among others, is love.

We articulated longing in the words of lament in a responsive reading begun by one of the leaders, “We mourn all that we see in the world and in ourselves that is lost in the darkness of self-absorption and the poverty of faith in the saving power of materialism.”

The people respond, “We mourn the violence of our age and the perversion of religions that too often justify it.”

Later a leader reads, “Let the darkness of our human propensity for pride, self-deception, violence and domination be overcome by the dawning light of love’s power, which is the Easter story.” The people respond, “The love and life that were and are in Christ are called to life in us today.”

Another leader reads, “Love casts our fear.”

Shortly after this declaration of faith and hope, we take a wooden shard and give it the name of the chief fear we have that blocks our spirit. When we are ready, each of us puts our shard into the fire of God’s refining transforming love. The fire blazes. The sun is up.

The service continues to its end with a prayer, our singing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” Judith’s reciting e.e. cummings’ “I thank thee God” and holding hands, gloves off, around the circle for the closing benediction.

I, and others are deeply, spiritually renewed and joyful.

Doesn’t everyone long for deep experiences of new life in love? We are not entombed by facing our angst, confessing fears and opening to and acting on our belief in love. Just the opposite. And in the new life following liberation from the tomb of fear, love gives hope, direction and meaning to our lives.

I believe that the time has come in our culture and the world to move beyond the idolatries of secularism – nationalism, materialism, individualism and sectarianism – that are dividing and destroying us all. It is time to move into a new day, which is already dawning, of mature and grace-centered religious life and practice, Christian and otherwise. Our hope for the life for all people and our Earth is in love and its children: humility, servanthood, compassion, courage and kindness.

The great faiths of the world believe in and are calling us to a love for us and through us for all. We are all hungry for our lives and all lives to be grounded in that love. Our secular faiths are not big enough.

That is what was called for, recognized and rejoiced in at the Easter sunrise service on Cousins Island again this year.

Bill Gregory is a writer and retired UCC minister. He welcomes your emails at [email protected]