Bells ring from Jerusalem’s church spires in the evenings. If you stand on tiptoe on the shower ledge of a hotel bathroom and look through the half-open skylight, or push open an unlocked door on the top floor of a restaurant and lean against an air vent on the roof, you can hear them ringing all over the city. They are Roman Catholic and Coptic and Greek Orthodox and Protestant; they are solemn and joyful and cacophonous and occasionally harmonious. They ring for ten or fifteen minutes—just enough time for a shower, or a rosary, or a display of fireworks. Above all, they sound like peals of laughter.
For whom do the bells ring? Sometimes, on Easter, I think that the bells are the churches’ voices, proudly proclaiming the Resurrection or calling people to their doors. The loudest of Jerusalem’s bells lives in the squat stone tower of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the skull-shaped hill called Calvary. Does it ring on Easter Sunday to announce to the city and to those beyond, to the guards standing underneath the barbed wire of the West Bank Wall, what is written on Christ’s empty tomb: He is not here; He has risen? Do bells across Paris and London and New York ring to welcome their communities back for one day of the year, saying, like the angel said to Mary and Mary Magdalene, “Do not be afraid!” (Matthew 28:5)?
In French Catholic tradition, parents tell their children that bells leave their churches on Good Friday and fly to Rome. They remain in silent mourning for three days. On Easter Sunday, the bells return, laden with chocolates and colored eggs that fall across the countryside and in children’s backyards as the bells fly back to their spires.
When I was younger, I always imagined the bells laughing as they flew back from Rome. I never wondered why. Even as a child, I knew that there was something unbelievably absurd about the idea of flying bells sprinkling chocolate eggs across the Earth. Why wouldn’t I laugh?
Wouldn’t Easter have felt absurd, too, to Mary Magdalene, who went to pay her respects to her crucified friend and teacher and found the tombstone rolled away, the chamber empty, the linens in a heap on the floor? In the space between disbelief and understanding, wouldn’t she have not known whether to shout for help or to shout for joy, to cry or to laugh? Her laughter, I think, would have been the laughter of ambiguity and hope, the laughter of one who can see the world in a new light but who has not yet shed her old sorrow and doubt.
On Easter, the bells do not toll, or call, or summon, or proclaim—they laugh. They express uncontrollable, absurd emotion, for two minutes or for twenty. They laugh for no one in particular and for anyone who can hear them: Catholic and Protestant, Christian and non-Christian, joyful and doubtful and sorrowful alike.
On Easter, perhaps there is no need for certainty. Perhaps, as we listen to the church bells ring, we can let ourselves laugh.
Aliénor Manteau ’23 is a junior at Harvard in Dunster House studying English and Philosophy.