Easter sunrise

A friend of mine grew up
the daughter of a Baptist minister
in small towns, South Carolina.
Amy’s a pastor herself now,
at a church where the two words “sunrise service”
are never spoken—
in large part out of a deep respect for the creative power of words
and a correspondingly deep fear
that even just saying those two particular words
might actually somehow bring them about.

Amy remembers her daddy laughing at that
and then reflecting back through his years of ministry
on one of those community sunrise Easter services,
back in one of those small South Carolina towns

where it was customary
for the Baptists, the Methodists, the Presbyterians,
and maybe even the Independents,
depending on how they were feeling that year,
to gather early Easter Sunday morning
for an Easter sunrise service,
in this case—in this place—
in a local cemetery.
That was their custom

which probably had as much to do
with a theology of that “great gettin’ up mornin’”
when the dead would be raised from their dusty tombs—
probably had as much to do with that hope and expectation
as with Jesus rising from his grave in the Easter morning story.

What no one had noticed this one particular Easter—
the implications of which no one had thus considered,
was that Easter came very early that year.
The daylights saving time spring-forward hadn’t happened yet,
and so the faithful gathered in the darkness of the cemetery.
Now it wasn’t too great an inconvenience.
They sang familiar hymns
the words to which they didn’t need to see.
Their prayers were heartfelt and spontaneous.
And the Methodist pastor, whose year it was,
looked over his sermon notes by flashlight.
But that Easter sunrise service,
the sun never did come up.
They finished the service,
the sun still not risen,
and they went home—
in the dark.

Later, the sun came up.

That may be one of the truest Easter stories I’ve ever heard.

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