Every year on Easter morning, Paradox Church goes to the Appleton Ranch to welcome the hope of the sunrise and celebrate the resurrected Christ. Here is a picture from this year's celebration:
Here's the words from my homily on that morning:
For the eighth year in a row, we have traveled all the way out to Colton and welcomed the sunrise on Easter morning.
It’s a tradition unlike any other for our church, because NONE of our other traditions require us to wake up at the crack of dawn.
I simply cannot imagine what would happen if we announced, “Hey everyone, our sunrise easter service is so popular, that we’ve decided to have our church service on Saturday mornings at 6:00 am!” Or if we said, “Hey Paradox Church, this year, we are inviting you to a Christmas sunrise service!”
I’m pretty sure all of you would, understandably, revolt against such apostasy.
Because 6:00 am on a weekend is not a good time for a church service, it’s not a good time for a worship gathering, and it’s not a good time for a celebration of Christmas,
It’s such common knowledge that 6:00 am on a weekend is a bad time for church gatherings, that they don’t even teach it in seminary.
And yet, somehow, some way,
that rule goes out the window when it comes time to celebrate the resurrection.
From the first year we announced, “We are going to meet at 6:00 am and celebrate the resurrection on Sunday.” You all were all very excited about the idea… as long as we provided food.
What is it about Easter that makes us willing to wake up at 6:00 am?
Well, I believe there are four reasons.
The first reason we wake up to greet the sunrise, is because we are following in the footsteps of the women who went to the tomb of Jesus Christ on Sunday morning to give him a proper burial. All four gospels disagree on exactly which women made the journey. But all four gospels agree it was only women who went to the tomb that morning. And all four gospels agree that they left before the sunrise, and by the time the sun peeked over the horizon, the tomb was empty, Jesus was not there, and Christ was risen.
So, as you climbed up the hillside before the sun was in the sky this morning, you walked in the tradition of Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, Salome, Joanna, and the other women who discovered their risen Savior. You joined them on their journey so long ago and they joined you on your journey this morning.
These women are the priests of the resurrection. And their testimony brought hope to the world for generations to come all the way to our generation today.
The first reason we wake up early to greet the sunrise is to stand in solidarity with our Christian matriarchs Mary, Mary, Salome, Joanna, and the other women.
The second reason we wake up to greet the sunrise is because there is something synonymous with the sun rising for a new day and the theological concept of resurrection, isn’t there?
When night gives way to day, it reminds us that grieving gives way to dancing, that separations give way to reunions, that death gives way to life, and that jaded pessimism gives way to hope.
There’s something special about an Easter sunrise because we walk up here in darkness, with full confidence and faith that the sun will rise shortly after we reach the top.
And when the sun that we anticipated rewards our little faithful journey we are remind that there is order and beauty and routine and blessing and goodness in this world, and we are filled with hope by the fact that when everything seems to fall apart, at least we can always count on the sun to rise.
We wake up early on Easter morning, because there are few metaphors that are better for the hope of the resurrection of Christ then darkness giving way to light and the sun rising over the horizon.
Which brings us to the third reason we wake up to greet the sunrise: My friends, we are on a rock, floating in space, hurtling in orbit around the sun at a nearly incomprehensible speed held together by a force we barely understand, all while spinning on an axis that turns our specific vantage point toward the sun for about 12 hours and then away from the sun for about another 12 hours.
And all of this wondrous spinning
and gravitating takes place
every day of our existence,
But we often get so busy with our lives that we forget how rare and beautiful it is that we exist.
And if you look at this sunrise behind me this morning, you may be tempted to think “Well… I mean, it’s a sunrise, just like every other sunrise on every other day of the year.”
In other words, a sunrise is an ordinary occurrence.
What you see behind me is the 99th sunrise of the year 2023. And there will be another 266 sunrises before the year is over. In my lifetime, this is the 14,454th time the sun has risen. And, if I’m lucky, the sun will rise somewhere around 16,000 more times before I disappear from this world.
In other words, this sunrise is one of 30,000 sunrises
that I will experience in my lifetime.
It is an ordinary occurrence.
However, it’s the only time that I will experience the sun rising for the 14,454th time in my life. And I only get to see the 14,454th sunrise once.
We wake up early on easter morning because the sunrise is an ordinary thing, but the sunrise is also an extraordinary thing.
And this early tradition reminds us that every day, no matter how ordinary is ultimately an extraordinary gift from our Maker. Because this day will never happen again. And the resurrection is grounded in taking an ordinary day and turning it into an extraordinary occurrence.
Which brings us to the fourth and final reason we wake up early to greet the sunrise on Resurrection morning.
In Christian theology, the resurrection is always about hope.
And when we consider the women who walked to the tomb on the first easter morning, all of those women made that journey with a predictable set of expectations. They expected to arrive at the tomb find the body of Jesus there prepare the body and then go back home and cry.
And so they went, and carried with them all of their expectations. And then the Resurrection of Christ happened, and all of a sudden those expectations appeared to be rather silly.
This is the greatest surprise in Christian history.
And this story reminds me that when I think I have life all figured out and that I can explain how everything moves and why everything works the way it does there are these moments where something unexpected happens and grace bursts forth into the most jaded circumstances and fills the land with infectious hope.
If you have ever felt jaded, or pessimistic or bitter, or like the world has just run you over, or that this life is meaningless and you will never see your loved ones again, then I want you to know that I have felt that way too.
And this is why you and I wake up early on an Easter morning and drive to Colton and blink at a sunrise with our church community. We do this to remind ourselves, that the surprise of grace is not only possible, but the surprise of grace is inevitable.
And while it may seem unlikely that we will see our loved ones again, I find it just to be as unlikely that we met our loved ones in the first place at all.
The resurrection reminds us that grace will surprise us in our lifetimes.
And we ground ourselves in this ritual of waking up early to sit with a posture toward life that is expects grace to surprise us EVERY day.
This posture causes us to love others, because we have received so much love ourselves. This posture causes us to laugh louder, because there’s something funny about all of this existence isn’t there? This posture causes us to weep passionately, because we have given our heart away so freely. This posture causes us to hope for reunions because there is nothing greater than being at rest with your loved ones. This posture causes us to love life, with all of its imperfections, because this life is a wondrous place for our human minds to perceive what it means to be alive.
And so, we wake up early
to follow in the footsteps of the women who discovered the tomb,
to experience firsthand the metaphor of resurrection as experienced through a sunrise,
to remind ourselves that this day is an ordinary day that is extraordinarily unlike any other day,
and to approach life with a posture
that expects life to surprise us with an abundance of grace
because we believe in a God that is alive
a God that is love,
and a God that is resurrection.
And that resurrection is for all of us here and now.