This past weekend was an important time of remembrance for Christian believers. Depending on how traditional one is, it can begin with observing Lent (40 days of fasting), Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday (Easter). And don't forget Passover, which has great significance for looking at the Gospel story through a Jewish perspective.* It's the precursor to the Christian observance of communion, and gives a greater depth of meaning to Christ's death on the Cross. The most important lens of perspective is celebrating the Lord's resurrection from the dead. I especially love sunrise services!
When I was a young pastor in southern California, I joined with pastors from other churches in our community to celebrate Good Friday. Typically, we would preach through the seven last sayings of Christ on the Cross (Matt 27:46 or Mark 15:34; Luke 23: 34, 43, 46; and John 19:26-27, 28, 30). Although it could get somewhat dry and trite year after year, it had meaning. There was also a community-wide sunrise service, but our church held it's own. It was always a special time of celebration and fellowship as we shared in a breakfast following the service.
Unfortunately, traditional services can become rote ritualism, but they don't have to be. On the other hand, many non-denominational ministries have jettisoned traditional services in the pursuit of relevance and freedom from outdated traditions. I lament this attitude, even though I've been part of non-denominational churches for the past four decades. Traditions and special services (remembrances) remain meaningful when kept with a fresh, spiritual relevance.
It's not the act or service itself, so much as the motive and heart attitude in its observance. I like Seder Suppers (Passover celebrations) and Good Friday services. I like Candlelight services on Christmas Eve, and I love Sunrise services on Resurrection (Easter) mornings. They are important remembrances of spiritual significance, and are valuable.
My family and I lived in the Philippines for fifteen years where the country virtually shuts down in observance of Good Friday. Good Friday is the culmination of their Holy Week, not Easter Sunday. So, our first Easter Sunday in the Philippines (in 1991), we had a simple, small sunrise service on the beach at the back our house. At the time, we were part of a small barangay (village) church. They had never done this, but enjoyed it, especially when we roasted freshly caught fish at breakfast following the service.
The church we were blessed to be a part of later (CCD), now holds a public sunrise service in the provincial (county) park each year (try doing that in the US nowadays!). There are hundreds of people who attend this service and it has become a great outreach in the city. Currently, we've enjoyed sunrise services the past two years at the beach near our home (photo above), where we're involved with a new church plant (OCC).
I love sunrise services because they are a great visual reminder of the Lord Jesus' victory over death and darkness—a reminder of God's faithfulness and power. I'm reminded of an expression I heard many years ago, "It's Friday, but Sunday's a-comin'!" The darkness (visually symbolic of death and sin) gives way to the light—death on the Cross is followed by the victory displayed by the empty tomb.
I'll end my remembrances with an ancient traditional greeting spoken early on Easter Sunday—the first phrase spoken by someone and the second phrase spoken in response by another person—"He is Risen...He is Risen indeed!" The resurrection of Jesus from the grave is a reminder of His power over sin, death, and the devil (Heb 2:14), and the assurance of having a living hope and an eternal future. What is your remembrance of Jesus?
* For an example of observing Passover (Seder Supper) see this blog— http://asmallsnippet.blogspot.com/