Sunrise services I have known
from the desk of …
They say reminiscing is a sign of old age….
As I recall some Easter services I have attended, I suppose I have confirmed that saying.
In Portland, the band would participate in a service on the St. John’s Bridge, 205 feet above the river. The fog hung over the bridge, bringing a shroud of gloom to the occasion much as what must have surrounded the disciples as they contemplated the events that they had witnessed on Friday. We would gather before 6 a.m. and walk out to the middle of the bridge, which was closed to traffic except for big trucks, which shook the structure as they crossed. The cold morning wind would whip across us as we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord—and hoped for a quick conclusion so we could rush to the warmth of our cars.
Easter sunrise in the Hollywood Bowl began at 5 a.m. with a fanfare from angelic white-robed trumpeters on the hillside. For many years, Major Joyce Stevenson was one of the eight women selected for this role. The blast of the trumpets announced that Christ had risen and the service was beginning. When the corps band played, we had to be at the bowl at 3 a.m. to avoid the crowd of 20,000 expected for the service.
One sunrise service was very memorable for the wrong reasons. The Oakland Citadel band annually participated in a community service on the shore of Lake Merritt. After preparing in the gazebo near the lake, the band would start the service with the hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” As the band began to play, the sound frightened the ducks, which left their place of rest and quiet and soared over the waiting congregation. Flying over the row of participating ministers, they displayed their fright in an act of baptism such as these ministers had never experienced.
While at National Headquarters, we attended the sunrise service on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Sitting at the feet of the huge statue of Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator, and looking down the mall towards the Capitol, our thoughts went to the greatest emancipator, whose resurrection we were celebrating. The sound of the crowd of ten thousand singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” thrilled our hearts and sent shivers cascading through our bodies—as the disciples must have experienced when they heard the news. Christ freed us from the prison of sin and gave us hope by his great gift.
While in Israel, we visited the Church of the Resurrection, which covers the presumed Tomb of Jesus. Waiting in the queue, we examined the small opening leading to the location where early Christians came to view the place that Christ was laid when taken from the cross.
All kinds of thoughts raced through our minds as we waited for admission, anticipating seeing this holy place. Luke tells us (24:1-3, NIV) “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women…went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” Mary Magdalene anticipated seeing a body in the tomb because she brought spices with her. But we brought no gifts or spices with us because we knew the tomb was empty. And then stepping through the door, we saw the carved stone shelf—site of the greatest event in history.
Without the resurrection, we wouldn’t be celebrating Easter; because of it, countless lives are changed and we have great reason to rise early and remember all that Jesus has done for each of us. We brought no gift to the tomb but Jesus provided his gift—salvation when he left the tomb.
I have attended numerous sunrise services in many different places and each reminds me—with a sense of wonder—of the greatest sunrise service that took place with just Mary Magdalene, the other women and God’s messenger.
As wonder filled the heart of Mary, does Easter fill your heart with wonder for God’s great gift?