A View from the Pew: Worship at Sunrise

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Just a few days ago we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus on the holiest day on the church calendar with a number of traditions that we reserve for this special day.

There were flower crosses, lilies, white cloths draping crosses, and boisterous singing of “He Lives!” “Up from the Grave He Arose,” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”

Of all the meaningful traditions associated with Easter, the sunrise service is a particularly rich source of ideas for rejuvenating the worship experience outside of the Easter season. Here are five elements of sunrise services that could be incorporated into worship on a more frequent basis:

1. Outdoor venue. I’ve always found it easier to offer praise to Creator God in the midst of creation. Yes, it can be too chilly or too muggy, but even discomfort can bring our focus to God. I love choral music and the playing of instruments, but sometimes the best choir is made up of birds. And no stained glass in any church building anywhere can match the beauty and majesty of a sunrise breaking through the tree tops. Worshipping outdoors helps you channel all of your senses into appreciating our loving God.

2. First things first. I’m not usually good for much until my second cup of coffee, but whether it’s sitting at the kitchen table with a Bible, journal, and silence or gathered with the faithful to worship, there is something that sets your mind right by beginning your day with worship. Your hair may not be combed just right and your outfit a little wrinkled, but waking up to a new day by joining with other believers to worship does wonders for your attitude.

3. Low-tech. Partially related to number one above, most Easter sunrise services lack even a public address system. The un-amplified voice requires more attention and sharper listening. It’s also more authentic to those first-century worship gatherings to have no electricity, no climate control, no projectors or microphones as a distraction from the proclamation of the Word and singing of hymns.

4. Sacrifice conveniences. I’m not one to wish church to be uncomfortable for the sake of discomfort, but by giving up a little sleep and a cushioned pew or chair, we can sometimes focus better on the real reason for assembling for worship. While being too uncomfortable can be a distraction from worship, so, too, can being too comfortable. Easter sunrise is a service in which we put up with a lot of minor inconveniences because we recognize it’s special. It’s also hard to complain about the air conditioning when it’s the Lord sending the breeze.

5. Joy. We gather at sunrise on the first day of the week because that’s when, according to the Scripture, the resurrection took place. It was bewildering for Jesus’ disciples, but it was also joyful beyond belief. Acknowledging that we follow a living Christ at a sunrise service stirs rejoicing that we don’t often allow ourselves to feel week-in and week-out. Exporting genuine expressions of joy from the Easter sunrise to the weekly worship would do all of our spirits good.

Whether you rose early for sunrise service or not, I hope your Easter was joyous and enriching. And may the next opportunity you have to experience worship contain elements that remind you of a sunrise service.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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  1. Our church celebrates each Easter morning with a Sunrise Service followed by breakfast. It’s been a tradition for many years that my family prepared that meal for everyone, usually around 50 or 60 people. There have been years when I’ve dreaded for days the idea that I’d have to get up at 4 a.m. and cook breakfast for a bunch of other people just because my dad wanted me to. (I’m not proud of that, I’m just telling the truth.) When the sun starts coming up and the people gather in front of the church, I’m the one watching from the window at the sink in the Fellowship Hall while I’m scrubbing burned egg from the bottom of a stinky skillet.

    This year, for the first time, my dad wasn’t well enough to get up early and be a part of preparing that meal. Oddly enough, I was less resentful about preparing the meal this year than ever before. I actually enjoyed it and found myself praying while I cooked and looking forward to sharing the morning with the rest of my congregation when they joined me after the service. Dad did make it to the Sunrise Service, and when he walked in the door and looked over and smiled, he said “Thank you. I’m proud of you.” Just like that, Sunrise Service Breakfast went from a difficult chore to a beautiful act of service for dad and for my Savior.

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