Easters were special growing up. We colored dozens of eggs. Mom made homemade candies and molded bunnies. I wore a new dress every year. Some years Mom made the dress for me. The white shoes came out of storage (forget Memorial Day!) and we posed for pictures in the back yard in our finest.
My Aunt would buy bags and bags of the left-over Easter candy and a week or so after Easter, we would have a big candy hunt with all of the cousins. Life was simple.
We didn’t always attend sunrise service, but I remember being excited to go. Some years, it would be very cold, and I would insist on wearing my thin Spring dress (often sleeveless) no matter how loudly my teeth chattered. Although I can vividly remember some of those dresses (and the hand-crocheted shawls Mom made to go with them), I cannot remember the sunrises. In my imagination, they were vivid – as we sang hymns, the bright ball of the sun peeked over the horizon and the angels sang. In my imagination, it was quite a spectacle – worthy of motion picture awards.
This morning, My dear sister-in-law and I decided to go to sunrise service. It was cold (low 40s), and the service was being held on the shores of Lake Erie, where ice covered the water mere days ago. I had no Easter dress, and as an adult, common sense ruled and I wore my heaviest wool pants, two sweaters, a winter jacket and woolen socks under my winter boots. I carried a travel mug of steaming coffee. I was prepared.
The rest of the early morning worshipers dressed like me. Nary a light spring dress with bare arms was to be found. In the pitch black darkness, we sat on rough wooden benches, our backs to the frigid lake. As the service began at 6:45 a.m., the sky began to lighten just enough to read the prayer on the bulletins we were handed.
Our Pastor shared the scripture from Mark 16 – “…trembling and bewildered, the women found the empty tomb and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
This account lacks the drama from the Passion Play. Mark doesn’t tell us about Jesus’ appearance to his followers. There are no vivid beams of light streaming from the empty tomb. No heavenly chorus – no trumpets – only frightened women fleeing.
As we said the closing prayer and sang the remaining hymns, the sky continued to brighten. There was no startling contrast, no brilliant colors. The lake didn’t sparkle. It was quite dreary (and still very cold). Pastor told us how some evenings when vespers is held at the same location, the sunset is stunning. Other times, like this morning’s sunrise, it is just a subtle transition from one day to another.
I wish that I had more time this morning to sit and contemplate that subtle sunrise. Instead, I came home, downed a cup of coffee and cooked breakfast for seven. After breakfast, I boiled eggs to color with one of the grandchildren who had spent the night. As my daughter helped him dye the eggs, I began preparation for the family celebration as we came together to enjoy fellowship (and food!)
After lunch, the children scampered through the yard looking for brightly-colored plastic eggs filled with candy. While I was inside the house being busy, the day had transformed completely. The cold had disappeared and the sun shone brightly. It was too nice to go back into the house, so we visited on the front porch. It was a wonderful time.
With the last of the family guests gone, I took my opportunity for that quite contemplation that I missed earlier. I donned my running tights and shoes and headed for the high school track. I reflected on the cross, and the excruciating pain that would be involved in crucifixion. I remembered Christ’s pleas for forgiveness for the people who were torturing and killing him. I imagined the empty tomb, and this time my mental movie included this morning’s subtle sunrise, as the black night gave way to the soft gray of a cloudy morning.
My own life has changed a lot in the past year or so. It’s been a slow process. Some days I am disappointed that the changes aren’t mind-blowingly vibrant. Other times, like today, I am grateful for the calm that fills me when I’m alone with the only sounds being those of nature around me and my feet striking the pavement. As I took my final lap around the track, the sun began it’s gentle descent toward evening. The bright ball in the sky was too bright for me to capture with my iPhone camera. It was the kind of light that chases away any kind of sadness left in the corners of your mind.
I sat in the car and watched the light. It was the kind of brightness that would be perfectly accompanied by angels’ voices and trumpets. It filled me with awe, and calm.
Last week was difficult. My mind was occupied with current events and political thoughts. I spent energy uselessly pondering issues that are beyond my control and problems that aren’t even mine to solve. While I was alone, in that moment, none of it mattered.
The emotions today brought with it may be lost in translation, but the message for me came loud and clear – even a dreary, subtle sunrise can become a breathtaking day.
As the Easter hymns of my childhood echo in my mind, I am filled with joy.
He is risen [He is risen indeed!]