Sunrise services mark Easter in special way

2012-04-07T00:15:00Z 2014-08-25T17:40:35Z Sunrise services mark Easter in special wayBy SUSAN OLP The Billings Gazette

There's something special about gathering together early on Easter morning, Billings pastors say.

"The gospels talk about the fact that early on Easter morning, the women came and were going to anoint Jesus' body and they found the tomb empty," said the Rev. Donald Bailey, pastor of Shiloh United Methodist Church. "So we try to celebrate that by having an Easter morning sunrise service and then relighting the Christ candle to show that Christ has come again."

The Christ candle, or Paschal candle, is extinguished on the night of Good Friday, marking the time when Christ died on the cross, Bailey said.

The significance of the empty tomb is that Jesus, whose body was laid there after his death by crucifixion, has come back to life, said the Rev. Mark Morgenstern, pastor of Atonement Lutheran Church.

"If Jesus hadn't been raised from the dead, there would be no Christianity," Morgenstern said, adding that Easter caps a monumental week. "God has acted, we believe, in our world through Jesus. And God has won the victory over sin and death."

That's mirrored in the early-morning celebration, he said.

"Gathering in the darkness and as the sun comes up celebrating the good news is a special kind of thing,' he said.

Richard Stone, pastor of the Unity Church of Christianity, meets with members of his congregation at Zimmerman Park on top of the Rims. To see dark turn to light is both beautiful and meaningful, he said.

"I talk a little bit while we're waiting for the sun to rise," Stone said. "As soon as it tips the horizon, I invite them to be quiet and each in their own way to consider that as the sun rises on the horizon, the Son is rising in their hearts."

The congregations all celebrate the early service in different ways. The Rev. Susan Otey, at Grace United Methodist Church, said her congregation this year is assembling with members of Central Christian Church on the porch at Grace UMC.

"We hold it by a fire pit because it's always cold out," Otey said. "People come in warm, comfortable clothing."

Students lead the service, she said, which will include a greeting time, Scripture reading and meditations on the reading by the students.

"It has the four basic elements of worship, just compacted," she said.

Afterward, everyone goes inside for breakfast and conversation.

At Shiloh, the members start the service outside the church, facing east, so that they see the sun come up.

Then they sing the hymn "Morning has Broken," do a Scripture reading, light the Pascal candle and then go inside to take Communion.

At Atonement, the cross is veiled on somber Good Friday, Morgenstern said. Early Sunday, participants come inside in the dark, remove the veil from the cross and greet each other, saying "Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed." Lights are then turned on and a hymn, "Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Alleluia!" is sung.

Stone speaks for a short time, and then the meditation follows. The whole service only lasts about 15 minutes, he said, especially if it's really cold.

"We might stand there and watch a little longer, and if it's real nice, we might have a conversation," Stone said.

All of the sunrise services are shorter than the later morning ones, lasting no more than a half hour. Most start at about the same time as the sunrise, which Bailey acknowledges is awfully early in the morning.

"I always tell them, if my alarm doesn't go off, start without me," he joked.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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