Monday, April 18, 2011

Sunrise memories

My childhood worship place sat upon a tall, round hill surrounded by ridges and high meadows. It sits there still; my cousin was married at the church several years ago, and I was stunned to see how crowded the pews felt now, how dark was the interior. Was there really only one little bathroom? Around back, where many church dinners had been served out of the basement kitchen, the patio by the door didn't seem as spacious as I'd pictured it in my mind. Growing up ruins things sometimes.

But the view from outside the church? It was every bit as astounding and awe-inspiring as it had ever been.

The church is rather old, with a requisite cemetery situated next to it. Those graves stretch across the hilltop quite a ways and a small road runs through them. All around you, as far as you can see, are similar bluffs and high places, some distant buildings, a variety of fences, and occasional stock grazing; you feel atop the world. It's a perfect place for walking, for thinking, for simply pondering the awesomeness of our Creator. When you're alone, the only noise is the wind, which depending on the day could probably seem lonely or friendly. When you're there with others, voices are lost on the breeze, and it's necessary to speak up or shout when you're not near to the person you're addressing. It's a really peaceful place for pondering.

What I've been recalling about that church lately, though, is one particularly early morning attendance. The church used to feature a real "sunrise" service on Easter morning, and my family attended that sermon on several occasions.

We'd rise before daylight, and my sisters and I would first check our Easter baskets to make certain they held goodies, even sampling some sweets (always at least one bite more than we'd been granted!) Then we would don our Easter dresses, which had been laid out the night before or had hung temptingly in our closets for days. Over the pretty dresses went heavy jackets, of course; Easter weather is rarely warm, and churches perched on hilltops are colder still.

We'd climb into the family truckster, usually a station wagon, and off we'd ride, down our road and then upwards on twisting, sometimes lurching single lanes. At last, our stomachs turning from the drive, we'd see the red brick building rising up ahead of us, and we'd ascend the driveway to park with all the other simpletons who'd chosen the same pre-dawn path.

Easter was especially fun because the songs we sang that day were joyful and uplifting, which would not be my adjectives of choice to describe some of the more traditional hymns of a typical childhood service. Our church was stoic and serious, and the hymns could take on a dirge-like quality at times...or perhaps it only seemed that way to me, being young and easily bored. Two songs that were nearly always featured on Easter morning were "He Lives" and "Up from the Grave He Arose" (or at least I think those are the titles). We'd sing out the powerful phrases with increasing vigor, and by the time we got to the end, that little building was as close to rockin' as it would ever get:
Up from the grave He arose
With a mighty triumph o'er His foes!
He arose a victor from the dark domain
And He lives forever with His saints to reign!
(Another song that's stayed with me is "Rise Again," but I think that was mostly sung on Palm Sunday.)

Just as we were rounding out some verses celebrating our resurrected King, the stained glass windows in the church would begin to glow, and light would shine through them with steadily increasing strength. On a cloudy day, it still lit the place gently, but on a sunny day, those colorful, translucent images came to life.

Afterward always involved chatting, happy Easter wishes, a leisurely exit into the bright day. Sometimes the air would have warmed a bit, and heavy coats could be shed so that fancily clad kids could be admired and teased. Then homeward, for a once-a-year diet of candy and ham.

They are sweet memories, those early Easter mornings. It's still easiest for me to picture Jesus stepping out of that tomb when it's new morning and the air is chill, and especially when I'm singing about that incredible moment. I truly hope that this coming Sunday, Resurrection Sunday, will be a day of joy and gratitude for you. You know which songs will be playing in my heart.


Facie said...

What a lovely picture you painted (and speaking of that, have you ever painted a pic of your church, or are you animals only)? Happy Easter!

Mel said...

thanks, Facie! I need to branch out and was planning to try a painting of my current church or parts thereof (it's a handful of different buildings). this old church from my youth would make a great pic, though--and I have painted landscapes from that same general area on a hilltop. so picturesque up there... Happy Easter to you!