Easter. Christ is risen.
I spent the first 22 Easters of my life, as well as I can remember, in Porterdale. I always looked forward to attending Sunrise Service at Julia A. Porter United Methodist Church, even before it was United. For years I went with two dear friends, Annie Lee Day and Mae Hardman. One year, when I was 19, I climbed out of a window at Newton General Hospital, before it was General, to attend. I was a patient, but I wasn’t too sick to attend services on Easter.
Iris Standard, a Lay Minister in the Methodist Church, often brought the message Now I am a Methodist Lay Minister and will have the distinct honor of delivering the sunrise message and preaching on Resurrection Sunday for the good folks of the New Covenant Fellowship Church in Conyers. God is good.
The first time I remember being away at Easter is when I took a trip to St. Petersburg, Fla., to visit my dear friend, Lynn Jones. She was a graduate student at the University of South Florida. We had a splendid weekend. We took in spring training game and snorkeled and ate at the Kapok Tree. On Easter Sunday morning we attended a beautiful sunrise service, down by the bay, and I was introduced to the song, “The Lord of the Dance.”
Lynn was taken from us many, many years ago, but I still remember that Easter Sunday morning every time I hear that song. Have I told you lately how much I hate cancer?
One Easter weekend I traveled to Lexington, Ky., with several members of my Cousins Middle School basketball team — Greg Autry, Robbie Floyd, Scottie Kimball and Steve Bradford come to mind. There may have been others. My mama sent us on our way with a shoebox full of fried chicken. Greg Autry made the mistake of falling asleep just north of Marietta and that fried chicken was all eaten long before he woke up, around the Tennessee state line. I remember we went to a brand new church on Easter Sunday, before heading home. The people seemed thrilled to have a visiting basketball team from Georgia at their church dedication.
Once my lovely wife, Lisa, and I were married, we were gone more than we were home at Easter. Whenever we were at home, however, we always worshipped at sunrise. I will never forget the Easter morning my daughter, Jamie Leigh, and I stood shivering in the Ebenezer Methodist Church parking lot while Terry Walden preached from the back of a pickup truck.
We were in Cocoa Beach, Fla., on the Easter after 9/11. We as a nation were still fidgety back then, and when I woke up and looked out of my hotel room that Sunday morning, I saw a big crowd gathered on the beach, outside the condo unit next door. Fearing the worst, I threw on my clothes and hurried downstairs to see what had happened.
The Resurrection had happened. A local church was hosting an impromptu Sunrise Service for vacationers. We were singing “Up From the Grave He Arose” as the sun made its first appearance out of the Atlantic Ocean that day.
We have spent dozens of Easters on Jekyll Island. The Easter bunny always found my kids there, and on most of those Easters I made it to the community services by the beach.
The last time I was in town on Easter I got to hear my good friend Bruce Walker play his guitar and sing at Sunrise Service. I love Bruce and could listen to him play and sing all night. A few times I have been fortunate enough to do just that.
This year I think Easter will be even more significant than in the previous 62 Easters I have spent on this planet. About a month ago I had the privilege of leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Now I understand a lot more about the Bible stories I have been reading and listening to my entire life. I have prayed atop the Mount of Olives and in the Garden of Gethsemane. I have seen Golgotha and touched Calvary and I have been inside the tomb where Jesus Christ was placed — at least what people think was the tomb.
And guess what, y’all?
It is still empty.
He is risen, indeed!