This, to my knowledge at least, was the first sunrise service I had ever attended. Our pastor, the Rev. Claud Boynton, who had come to our church when I was age six, was what we call a bi-vocational pastor. For his “real” living, he worked under that inimitable forest ranger, Mr. Arthur Woody, to patrol the forests of our section of north Georgia, to build fire breaks, to build roads, and whatever else was assigned to the forestry workers. And, as an additional—and I might add—called—job, he served as pastor at Choestoe Baptist Church and at Zion and maybe Mt. Lebanon, too, over in Suches community. Later, he would go to full-time status as pastor, with Choestoe and Blairsville First as his charges, and eventually only Blairsville First. But the Easter sunrise service of note was rather early in his career as an outstanding pastor in the hills of North Georgia.
Pastor Boynton had many innovative ideas that we at Choestoe had not experienced before. One of them was to hold an Easter sunrise service. And so we were gathered there, on the crest of the Holt property hill, awaiting the sunrise that early Easter morning.
As I mentioned above, I was cold. Mornings in Choestoe in March or early April (I did not look back to see which month Easter might have fallen, for I really don’t know exactly what year that long-ago sunrise service was held.) Even wrapped in my warmest coat, the early morning cold penetrated, and I wondered if I had been wise to attend the service. Everything about it was new and unusual to my child mind.
But the impression it made has held for my lifetime since then. I became aware at a very early age of how special Easter is. Where there was death and a tomb, there came, instead, resurrection from the dead and an empty grave. Where there was sadness and mourning, there came joy and hope. From that point onward in my life, any time I stood at the grave of one beloved, I did not consider the doom associated with death but the victory in resurrection.
You might say the cold I felt on that long-ago Easter morning when I attended my first sunrise service turned to a warmth in my heart that sees beyond death to life everlasting.
I can see in my mind’s eye the brilliance of the sunrise on that long ago Easter. I return again and again to the words my pastor, the Rev. Claud Boynton read from Matthew 28:1-10 (or maybe he read from Mark 16:1-11, or Luke 24:1-12, or John 20:1-18, all accounts of the resurrection). The experience of that first sunrise service made a deep and lasting impression on me. It changed my perspective on death and dying and gave me hope for life and eternity. How much would I need that hope, and how it grew into fruition a few years later when my beloved aunt, grandfather and my own mother died (I was only fourteen at her death).
So Easter is a time of hope.
It was many years later, 1978, as a matter of fact. It was not even Easter in early spring but July, and heat from the sun in the Holy Land let us (my husband Grover, his sister Estelle and I) know that we were in a strange land. But in a sense, it was not a strange land, for most of my life I had read and heard about the places Jesus frequented when He was in the flesh upon this earth.
My husband and I, in that summer of 1978, were having the privilege of visiting his sister Estelle who was a missionary to the Holy Land. We went together to many of the sites described in the Bible and where Jesus traveled, performed His miracles, taught His disciples. And finally, the sites where He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, was tried by the Jewish Sanhedrin and in the Roman Praetorium, traveled on the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrows), went to the cross on Golgotha, was placed in the tomb offered by Joseph of Arimathea, and then on that glorious First Easter, the tomb was empty.
We experienced seeing the empty tomb and hearing a service of celebration beside it. I thought of times in my husband’s ministry when he had led Easter sunrise services at various churches he pastored. All of those early morning vigils were filled with hope and joy. The visit to Jerusalem and the Garden Tomb was indeed a highlight of my Christian life and journey. But as impressive as the visit to the empty Garden Tomb was in our Holy Land trip, it was no more impressive than that first Easter sunrise service in my memory when the sun burst forth from behind the mountains as the assembly of faithful believers gathered on Holt’s Hill in Choestoe. Resurrection took on a most significant meaning then.
c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 1, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.