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Sunrise services

By Mike Ruffin

This Sunday is Easter Sunday. It is the holiest day of the year for Christians. That is because it commemorates the day that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

That Jesus rose from the grave on Sunday is the reason that most Christians worship on Sunday (there are some Christian groups that worship on Saturday). There is a sense in which every Sunday is a “little Easter.” So, when Christians gather to worship on Sunday, they do to remember and to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

Christians regard every Sunday as a holy day because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday. Christians regard Easter Sunday as an especially holy day because it is our annual celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. (As you know, the date of Easter Sunday moves around from year to year. The reasons for that have to do with the decision made by the Council of Nicaea in the year 325 to set the date for Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. We shouldn’t be troubled by there not being one set date for Easter. After all, we don’t know on what Sunday Jesus rose from the tomb.)

So, because Jesus was raised on a Sunday, Christians regard every Sunday as holy and Easter Sunday as especially holy. But for Christians, there is a real sense in which every day is holy and in which all time is holy. That is because Jesus is the resurrected Lord every day and all the time. All moments are infused with the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead. In every moment we experience the power of the resurrection, and we live the new life that is ours through our resurrected Lord. Every moment is a hopeful moment because every moment is a resurrection moment.

The special meaning of Easter Sunday is seen in the fact that worship attendance on that day is typically much better than it is on “ordinary” Sundays. I knew a pastor who would say to his congregation on Easter Sunday morning, “I’d like to go ahead and wish a Merry Christmas to those of you I won’t see again until then.” I would never say such a thing! But the fact remains that many of us will make a special effort to get to church on Easter Sunday morning that we aren’t as likely to make on a “regular” Sunday morning.

Some of us—and in my experience, these tend to be those who participate regularly in Sunday worship, although I am sure there are exceptions—even voluntarily get out of bed early on Easter Sunday morning to join in a special worship experience known as a sunrise service. I don’t know how careful churches are to plan their sunrise services so that they actually coincide with the rising of the sun. The churches I served usually scheduled their sunrise services for seven o’clock. That schedule would work well this year, as the sun will rise at 7:03 on Easter Sunday morning.

You might wonder why a congregation or congregations (sometimes churches in a community join together to hold a sunrise service) make the effort to have a special service at sunrise on Easter Sunday morning. It goes back to what the Bible says. All of the Gospels say that the women (the Gospel of John has Mary Magdalene go to the tomb alone) who discover the empty tomb do so early on Sunday morning. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) say that the women make their remarkable discovery at dawn, while John says it is still dark when Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb. In any case, all four Gospel writers say that the women found the empty tomb first thing Sunday morning. So, when Christians gather for their Easter Sunday sunrise services, we remember the women’s remarkable history-altering and world-changing discovery that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

I’ve been to many sunrise services over the years. I’ve attended them indoors in sanctuaries and fellowship halls. I’ve attended them outdoors on church lawns, in cemeteries, in a football stadium, and beside a pond inhabited by quacking ducks. I’ve found them all to be meaningful.

If you have never participated in an Easter sunrise service, maybe this would be a good year to try one. If you haven’t been to church in a while, maybe Easter Sunday would be a good day to go back. Whether you go to a sunrise service or a regular morning service (or both!), be ready to be surprised and even amazed.

The empty tomb that the women found changed everything.

Who knows what will happen when we find it for ourselves?

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