Monthly Archives: March 2013

Easter Sunrise Service: A Celebration in a Cemetery!

Early on Easter Sunday morning in 1732 a group of single young men, followers of Count Kikolaus Ludwig Graf von Zinzendorf, after an all night prayer vigil made their way to the local cemetery, known as “God’s Acre,” just before sunrise to sing hymns as the sun arose. The following year the whole congregation joined in this celebration of the resurrection of our LORD in the most unlikely place for joy, yet the most fitting when you think about the reality of the story—“a celebration in a cemetery.”

These Movavians, a very missionary Protestant people, from Herrnhut Germany soon sent missionaries to North America. Possibly the first, but certainly the most historic Easter sunrise service in America is held annually in Old Salem, North Carolina. This annual gathering at “God’s Acre” dates back to 1772 complete with thousands of worshippers and brass bands! Yes, brass bands sound off as a big part of the celebration of our Risen Lord.

I must confess I have attended Easter Sunrise service for decades and knew little about its history and original. Instead of this celebration being rooted in the ancient traditions of the church it stands out as a relatively modern phenomenon. As you can see its roots run deep in the Protestant tradition started by the German Monk Martin Luther, who realized in his studies of the writings of Paul that “salvation comes by faith alone” in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As you remember from the gospels, Mary Magdalene and her close friends made their way to the tomb very early in the morning to anoint the body of Jesus. While it was still dark and the sun was illuminating the eastern horizon they picked their way along the path to pay their last respects to their rabbi and teacher. With heavy hearts broken by the events of Friday the women struggled to make sense of how love could be so easily crushed by hatred, envy, jealousy and evil. The darkness brooding over their souls crushed their spirits.

Yet when they arrived at the tomb, the large stone over the entrance had been rolled away, and instead of a detachment of soldiers they encountered angels declaring “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here—He is risen!” With these words the darkness lifted and the world took on a new luster and joy. Yes, it all happened in a cemetery.

This year our church will be joining others from our extended family of faith to “resurrection” an El Paso tradition of having an El Paso Easter Sunrise Service at the football stadium of El Paso High School. The service will not have a brass band, but members of our choir will lead us at its close in the Hallelujah Chorus! The service will feature a message based on Mary Magdalene’s encounter with our Lord immediately after His resurrection. It will start at 6:30 a.m. and will be followed by a continental breakfast in Price Hall.

One of my favorite Tom Lea quotes is:

“Sarah and I live on the east side of our mountain. It is the sunrise side, not the sunset side. It is the side to see the day that is coming, not the side to see the day that is gone. The day is the day coming…”

Easter cries out to one and all about the new day coming brought by the nail scarred hands of our risen Lord.  I hope to see you early Easter Sunday morning looking east!

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Don’t Lose Jesus in Your Easter Basket!


As the death grip of winter loosens to the sunshine and rain of spring-time, creation reveals the glory of God and the celebration of Easter tells the rest of the story.

For Christians, Easter points to the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus Christ—the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords— who emerged from the grave holding in His nail-scarred hands the keys of death and Hades. So if Easter boils down to Jesus, how in the world did the Easter Bunny with his basket of eggs get caught up in the narrative?

Many of the traditions of Easter joined the story line long after Jesus conquered death and the grave. Some of the traditions actually have their roots in the pagan rituals of spring-time that date back through the ages. Take Easter Eggs as an example. For centuries eggs have symbolized new life and fertility. In Africa, the eggs of the long-legged Ostrich became the egg of choice. The Egyptians would bury eggs with their dearly departed as symbols of new life.

For early Christians the Easter egg symbolized the tomb of our LORD, and his victory over sin and death. In addition, legends circulated among the faithful about Mary Magdalene speak-ing to the Emperor of Rome declaring “Christ is Risen!” He replied, “Christ is no more risen than this egg can turn red”…and it did!

The Easter Bunny hopped on the stage in the 1500’s in Germany. Many scholars trace the Easter Bunny back to the German goddess Ostara, who personified the sun. This German goddess according to the myth had a pet bird she would change into a rab-bit, which would deliver brightly col-ored eggs to the children in the

springtime. Of course, I must confess I love the modern chocolate Easter bunny most of all!

The Easter Basket filled with eggs and treats finds its origins in the Lent tradi-tions of the Orthodox Church. During Lent, the faithful abstained from meat and dairy as a part of the fasting, so on the Saturday before Easter brightly decorated baskets of eggs and treats were brought to the Priest for blessing, so they could be consumed with great joy on Easter Sunday.

The Easter lily emerged on the plat-forms of churches across the land from the discoveries of missionaries in Ber-muda. The bulbs of these beautiful dainty flowers were brought back to Philadelphia and a florist “tricked” them into budding at springtime rather than summer and soon their simple beauty became the symbol of Easter for many.

Of course woolly little lambs at Easter find their origin in the sacrifice of Jesus and the words of John the Baptist who declared as he pointed his disciples to Jesus:

“Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29)

Much like at Christmas, Jesus has to fight His way through the various sym-bols and commercialization of Easter to get His story of love and grace out to the people He came to save. Sadly, I fear that even the faithful can miss the point of Easter if we are not careful.

Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, Easter baskets, lambs and lilies stand out as mere shadows. If you really want to ex-perience the joy of Easter, one must look deeply into the face of Jesus who loves us so.

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A “Pinch” for St. Patrick

One of my earliest memories from elementary school goes back to the day I showed up not wearing green on Saint Patrick’s Day. Within minutes of my arrival I felt the “pinch” of not wearing green in honor of the patron saint of Ireland. Back in those days the tradition was to pinch anyone who did not wear green.

You might ask why? The harsh reality is no one really knows for sure. Most scholars trace the tradition back to the United States to sometime in the early 1800’s. Many suggest it has something to do with a strange superstition about Leprechauns and being wearing green makes you invisible to the devilish plots. All I know is I did not wear green and a cute girl pinched me, so the bottom line. It was a good day!

In America at least 39% or 122,000 people will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this Sunday. There will be St. Patrick’s Day parades in practically every major city with New York hosting the largest with an expected crowd of over two million onlookers watching over 150 bands march by. In Chicago, the city fathers will turn the river “green” in celebration of the holiday by dumping over 40 pounds of green dye into its stream.

I can still vividly remember the Friday in Milwaukee when St. Patrick’s Day landed during Lent. As you may know during Lent Catholics and others avoid eating meat on Fridays, but the tradition in Milwaukee was to celebrate eating corn beef and washing it down with “green beer.” So Catholic priests across the city ruled on whether it was safe to each corn beef that Friday in their parishes. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published on the front page of the paper a huge map of the city pointing the faithful to the “safe zones” in the city to eat their cherished corn beef!

Who is St. Patrick and why is he so popular? Interestingly enough, Patrick served God as a missionary to Ireland back in 432 A.D. Many Church historians attribute the radical transformation of Ireland from a pagan island to a stronghold of Christianity to his work and the work of his followers.

Without doubt Patrick stands out as a very unlikely missionary to Ireland, especially since at the age of sixteen the Irish kidnapped him from his home in Britain and forced him into slavery for six years on the Emerald isle. After his escape from Ireland following a heavenly vision and returning safely home, God called Patrick to return back to the land of his captors with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Patrick obeyed God and returned with a loyal band of followers, and through the use of innovate missionary tactics turned the island upside down for the cause of Christ. Historians report that on a single day Patrick baptized over twelve thousand Irish pagans into the church near Killala.

How did Patrick accomplish this amazing missionary feat? This week I read his biography on the “” website. On the sidebar it listed these quick facts about Patrick: Name—St. Patrick; Occupation—Saint; Birth Date: c. 385.

I loved the statement about his occupation as being a “saint.” I would enjoy seeing his job description. Strangely, this secular website nailed it. Patrick was a “fully devoted follower of Jesus”—aka “a saint” which is what we are all called to be. Are you ready for God to use you to change the world?  Patrick said, “Yes” what about you?

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