Our alarm clock went off at 4:45 AM. A couple of years ago we discovered a sunrise service at nearby Sugarloaf Mountain and I figured we'd leave 75 mins before the 6:15 AM start just to play it safe. But the announcer on our alarm clock informed us that the temperature would be in the 30's so Beth said, "Forget it; that's too cold" and in a very un-spiritual manner, I happily rolled over to continue my slumber.
But Beth couldn't go back to sleep and immediately started wondering if she would regret her decision. She loves Easter Sunrise Services and we always go. So at 5:15 she says,
"Let's get up and go."
"But honey, none of us [5 of us] have gotten up and to get there right on time we'd have to leave immediately."
"Oh, we'll be little late; let's go!"
[with some sullenness] "Ok."
We didn't get out the door until 5:45 AM and I figured we'd get to the service about the time it was wrapping up. Beth asked for my opinion as to our timeliness and I revealed my thinking. She asked for my Blackberry and started struggling through pages not optimized for mobile viewing looking for a closer alternative sunrise service. We exited Interstate 70 to head to Damascas, MD where we had seen an incomplete page indicating that there might be a sunrise service there.
Then we saw a little sign on a country road advertising a nearby sunrise service. We couldn't believe our "luck."
It's about 6:10 AM. We drive a couple of miles and notice that to our left is a beautiful vista of rolling hills where the Sun was scheduled to crack the eastern horizon at 6:36 AM. We come upon a small group of mostly elderly folks standing right by the road immediately in front of a small and quite lovely United Methodist Church. Happily, we had stumbled upon Howard Chapel, a 149 years old church community in Mt. Airy, MD.
The congregants were quite dressed up; we're not. Nevertheless, I whip our van into their parking lot and we quietly make our way to join the gathering of maybe 30 or 35 folks. After a few remarks, the Sun beautifully rose and, after pausing to observe this, we step into the building, which was built in 1880 and hear a rousing brief meditation from the woman who apparently was their pastor.
Beth and I attend a megachurch in the Baltimore suburbs. I think they had 7 Easter services today. The production values are high. But there was something refreshing about walking back into a church culture I stopped experiencing on a weekly basis thirty years ago. And I don't mean to imply that high production makes a worship service insincere. But our experience this AM was raw, relatively unprocessed, and felt real. I was struck by how the fact of Jesus' rising from the dead transcends culture.
He is risen!
It was a marveolous and serendipitous Easter Morning surprise that we will not soon forget.