"Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.” — Luke 24: 1-3 When the Rev. Barrie Henke's congregation assembles just before sunrise Easter Sunday on the grounds of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, they are connecting with the rituals and dramatic themes that surround the Passion story. Easter sunrise services, Henke said, reflect the joyous Easter message of Christ's Resurrection but also pay homage to the faithful women who, according to Scripture, went to Jesus' tomb to prepare His body for burial only to find it empty. "It gives a little added dimension to what took place on Easter morning,” Henke, Holy Trinity's senior pastor, said of the sunrise service at his Edmond church, 308 NW 164. "It kind of gives us a little connection to those women who went out there that Easter. It's a connection through 2,000 years of history.” The Rev. Amy Rogers at Village Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) said sunrise services bring to the forefront the Easter theme of a new dawn that offers new beginnings. "I remember going to sunrise services as a child in Crescent, Oklahoma,” she said. "The breaking of the new day, the sunrise bringing new light, it symbolizes that Easter brings a new beginning, new hope, second and third chances, and a chance to start over.” Like Holy Trinity, Village Christian Church offers an outdoor sunrise service. It is at Casady School, 9500 N Pennsylvania Ave. Rogers said the church has had the outdoor service for many years. "For people who choose to get up that early, there's just something really special about it being outdoors,” Rogers said. "It's so serene, and it's a very simple service.” She said she thinks the casual dress and simplicity of the 30- to 40-minute service often draw people who might not attend a traditional Easter service.
"It's a nonthreatening way to worship. We forget that there are people who may be intimidated to go into a church and maybe even more so on Easter when everyone is dressed to the nines.”
Rogers said some sunrise service participants have come in jeans, which is OK.
"Of course, this year, they may be in parkas,” she said alluding to chilly weather forecast for Sunday.
At Will Rogers Amphitheater, a group of churches and faith organizations who have organized as Streets of Shalom will gather for an Easter sunrise service. The Rev. Dwight Cunkle, pastor of Covenant Life Church, said the service serves several purposes.
"Our hope is that some people will come who may not come to church on Sunday,” Cunkle said. "The other reason is that this is an expression of our unity and relationship. We believe that there's no better time of the year for the community to see that unity than on Resurrection morning, because we believe not only is our hope in Christ, but in the body of Christ working together.”
Besides Cunkle's church, Streets of Shalom includes Hope Christian Church, New Genesis Southern Baptist Church, Ridgecrest United Methodist, Olivet Baptist Church, Christ Covenant Church, New Hope Worship Center, Rosh Pinah Messianic Jewish Congregation and Joseph School of Ministry. The churches and faith organizations came together several years ago to pray for their surrounding community and to carry out various projects to strengthen it.
Cunkle said the sunrise service helps shed positive light on the community and particularly Will Rogers Park, NW 36 and Portland.
"We just believe we need to be present and involved in the community,” he said.
"That park is a place that needs to be a safe place for families, and the best way to do that is to have things like this.”
According to the online Catholic Encyclopedia, during Easter vigil, congregations "remained silent in the church awaiting the dawn of the Resurrection, joining at intervals in psalmody and chant and listening to the reading of the lessons.”
According to Wikipedia, sunrise services are most often held at Protestant churches in place of the Roman Catholic traditional Easter vigil.
The Catholic Encyclopedia noted that the length of the traditional vigil has been shortened over the years, and one reason might have been that clergy worried that Christians meeting in darkness, particularly those holding baptism services, were more apt to draw persecution.
Meanwhile, Southern churches, Wikipedia noted, sometimes hold sunrise services in cemeteries as a sign of recognition that Jesus no longer lay in the tomb.
Henke said he once planned to have a sunrise service in a cemetery when he pastored a church in Wisconsin, for just such a reason, but it had to be moved indoors because of rain.
Outdoor sunrise services, for all of their symbolism, are the exception to the rule.
The Rev. Jonathan Graves, one of the associate pastors at Wildewood Christian Church, said his church, like many others, will hold sunrise services indoors. He said indoors or not, the service reflects the important tenet of the Christian faith: Jesus rose from the dead early one Sunday morning.
"That's where that tradition starts,” he said.
A variation on tradition?Holy Trinity's Henke said he believes sunrise services are an Americanized adaptation of the traditional Easter vigil held in many European churches and in many Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopal churches across the United States. He said many of these churches still hold Easter vigil services on Saturday evening that continue into the early morning hours. Some of these services typically end at sunrise, he said.
NewsOK.com has disabled the comments for this article.