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Easter Sunrise Service at Oakland Cemetery

By Rev. Susan Allen Grady
Easter will be here before we know it. Between now and then, we will already be enjoying warm, beautiful, pollen-filled spring weather, and of course, Spring Break. At St. Paul we’ll add to that list the marking of the holiest week on our calendar with special worship services, music, and other gatherings. There are eggs to be hidden and hunted, feet to be washed, much deeply moving music to be sung, and many prayers to be prayed. And then we will gather early on the first day of the week, just as the women did in all the gospel accounts of the first Easter, in the place where we go to bury our dead. I have been thinking lately about how interesting and wonderful it is that St. Paul hosts a sunrise service on Easter morning in Historic Oakland Cemetery.
Years ago, before I was the pastor at St. Paul, I presided at a wedding held in Oakland Cemetery. When we all arrived that day, the sexton welcomed us and invited me to view a large photo album of many of the weddings that have been held there. I was astonished to learn how popular this site is for weddings. Years later, I have learned how popular this site is for all kinds of gatherings, including our sunrise worship service on Easter. There is something beautiful, quiet, and peaceful about being there. It is like time slows down while you are there; you are no longer in a hurry to get somewhere or do something. You can enjoy some time to practice Sabbath – the art of recognizing the need for a break in our hectic personal and professional schedules.
I must admit here that I am not a morning person. I love to sleep, and although I value a little bit of time to be quiet in the morning and to reflect or just finish up yesterday’s work, I’ll never embrace it as the way I prefer to live my life. I prefer to be asleep – except on Easter Sunday. On that day, I get up very early, sing in the shower, look at my bright eyes in the bathroom mirror, and wonder what on earth is wrong with me. I drive a lonely drive to the cemetery, knowing that all the other people who are not in their cars are probably in their beds asleep. And this year, since Easter is so late in the calendar year, we’ll begin our worship at 6:45am, slightly earlier than usual in order to experience the sun rising during our worship time.
So, we arrive to the place of the dead in the dark, looking for some light or possibly the meaning of life. Maybe it’s the getting up extra early that opens my eyes wide, for in the midst of the morning mist, flowers bending toward the budding sun, and sleepy, bundled up neighbors gathering in those quiet, barely visible moments, I enjoy one of the most holy moments I get to experience all year: right there in the most silent place in Atlanta—a deep connection to something far larger and more powerful than I. And it is life-giving.
I think we need that reminder, in a different kind of place, at a strange hour of the day. When we make ourselves available, we hear whispers, even in the silence of the land of the dead, that life is full and abundant. I’ll be singing, “He is alive!” Perhaps you will be singing a song of new life, too. What a good time to gather and give thanks for life in all its mystery…if we can just schedule a few early moments to listen for it.
I hope to see you at Oakland on Sunday, April 24 at 6:45am. We’ll be the ones with the guitars and the people who have no business being that happy at 6:45am on a Sunday morning, but you’ll know why. Peace be with you!

St. Paul Holy Week Activities:

Holy Thursday Worship: April 21, 7:00pm in Chester Commons, with Footwashing and Holy Communion
Good Friday Worship: April 22, 7:00pm in the Sanctuary.
Easter Egg Hunt: April 23, 11 am in the Ormond-Grant Park @ the corner of Ormond and Grant Street
Easter Sunrise Worship: April 24, 6:45am in Oakland Cemetery, by the gate house near the entrance from Oakland Ave.
Easter Worship: April 24, 10:55am in the Sanctuary

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