Following Jesus

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Following Jesus

Easter Sunrise 2020

April 14, 2020 by

sunrise

It’s six am, 38 degrees, and dark. I’m picking my way across the few tufts of grass that are visible between the enormous cow patties. Not exactly an idyllic Easter morning. Besides, the forecast is 90% cloud cover so we won’t see much of the dawn anyway.

We’ve been invited to a spontaneous sunrise service at a dairy farm in the rolling hills just outside Morgantown, West Virginia. I expected to see five or six other people, but a long stretch of the rutted farm lane is dotted with at least seven vehicles, each parked a safe distance from the last. We wait beside our vehicles and wave to the people parked nearest to us who we can’t identify at this distance in the dark.

I recognize Janie, though, because she’s carrying the white Easter lily that we gave her earlier this week. She’s part way up the hill already and the height helps her voice carry along the road to each of the little parties. “I know you are wondering ‘why in the world did she want us to come at six o’clock’ because it’s cold and dark, but as we walk up the hill let’s take time to think about Jesus climbing the hill, carrying the cross – after he had been beaten, cursed, spat on.”

Okay, so it may be Easter morning but the sun hasn’t risen yet. Jesus is still in the tomb. It’s still dark and cold. We have a while to wait.

Bobbing flashlights mark the path of each party as we make our way up the hill (very few of us successfully keeping our boots clean). At the top it is just light enough to make out the other groups. Two children read from the gospels about the women going to the tomb early on the third day. Their dad reads I Corinthians 15. A nurse wearing a mask reads about the disciples running to the tomb. Janie, who arranged this service just yesterday morning, reads about the symbolism of the Easter lily and the dogwood tree. Another woman, recently pronounced cancer free after a few worrying months of treatment, shares a piece about the significance of the folded linen in the tomb. Someone reads the account of the crucifixion from Mark.

The horizon is getting light now. The windmills along Chestnut Ridge are barely visible. I can’t see the arms moving yet, and silhouetted against the pink sky they almost look like crosses.

sunrise

The mom of the three now-shivering boys pulls out a speaker and we sing along to “In Christ Alone”, then Alan Jackson’s “Old Rugged Cross”. Now the grey sky far above the horizon is brushed with pink just over the ridge, and a golden spot marks the place where the sun will soon rise.

In the silence of waiting for the sun’s appearance a cow moos, reminding us that Janie has thirty cows to milk in the next hour. But she’s in no rush. “I want to thank you all for coming,” she says, choking up with emotion that is rare for this life-weathered farmer. “It’s just great to be together like this...even if we have to stay separate.”

The bright spot is fading now and the clouds are no longer pink. As the sun moves higher, the clouds move in so we never actually see it. That doesn’t seem to matter. The sun has risen for each of us still looking out at the horizon. We sing “He Arose” and then a spontaneous rendition of “Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow” lead by a gas well engineer.

This Easter has been unusual for everyone and the safety of our friends, family, and fellow worshippers has taken precedence over even our most treasured celebrations, but sometimes seeing things from a different perspective can make them all the more meaningful.

As each group makes its way down the hill it is clear that I was not the only one who felt the significance of what we had just experienced.

The nurse calls over to us. “That was really wonderful, wasn’t it? We never would have done anything this good if it wasn’t for the pandemic”. And she was right. This Easter has been unusual for everyone and the safety of our friends, family, and fellow worshippers has taken precedence over even our most treasured celebrations, but sometimes seeing things from a different perspective can make them all the more meaningful.

The light after the darkness, the warmth after the cold, the joy of the disciples running to the tomb after the despair of Good Friday – we experienced all this on a hill in a cow pasture, with farmers, a doctor, a surgeon, a nurse, an engineer, a respiratory therapist, a pharmacist, children, and others.

What Christ did for us at Easter is something that speaks straight to the heart. You don’t need a beautiful sunrise, a church, or an organ to celebrate Easter. Despite the cold, the grey sky, and the quietly maintained distance between our parties our hearts were together. Each of us in that unlikely group of friends had experienced the quiet of waiting, the joy of the Resurrection and the meaning of Easter.

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About the author

Anetta Shirky

Anetta Shirky

Anetta Shirky lives in Morgantown and attends West Virginia University, where she is studying elementary education.

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