I got up at 5:00 am in order to make coffee, feed the cats, shower, and cook kale with scrambled eggs. I got in the car and entered the Burton Camp address in my GPS. I was the last to arrive at the circle of logs around a flickering fire in the middle of the woods at the edge of the bay below a pink streaked-sky for the 2015 Vashon Ecumenical Easter Sunrise Service. (That’s a lot of prepositional phrases in a row.)
A frying pan with fish sat in the coals. Someone kindly handed me program; another, a plastic bag to protect from the log’s dampness.
I knew no one. I felt slightly ill-mannered about snapping a few pictures with my iPad, but did it anyway. Usually I ask permission.
A Methodist pastor in black jeans started the service; Kathy’s voice was welcoming; her manner, unpretentious. She led a brief responsive reading—I liked the lines:
“Leader: Early in the morning while the disciples slept,
Participants: Jesus prepared a feast/ to fill their emptiness;/ rolled away their hardened hearts/ opened them to grace;/ whispered their names/ to awaken them to new life.”
A second woman read a poem by the mystic Hafiz. We sang “Morning has broken…” a cappella, weakly. It’s a hymn I remember from childhood, though the tune for any but the first line escapes me.
I haven’t been to an Easter sunrise service in, what, fifty years? But in childhood, in boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas in India, that was the one service of the year I whole-heartedly liked. We’d wake up in the dark, race to the top of the hill, shiver and huddle together, sing “Lo, in the grave he lay…,” and watch the sun finally blaze over the mountain ridges. Then we’d troop back down the hill to our dorm dining room for early-morning cocoa, hot-cross buns, and marzipan Easter eggs (if our parents had provided a little extra money for purchasing those). Those treats were especially for us early risers, if I recall correctly: I wouldn’t have missed them for anything.
There in the Vashon woods, there was a scripture reading of two passages: first, the story of Mary Magdalene and “another Mary” going to the tomb of Christ, only to be frightened by an earthquake that rolled the tombstone away, and by an angel perching on the stone to wanted to chat with them; second, the story of Jesus appearing on the shore of the lake of Galilee, instructing his disciples to fish on the other side of the boat if they actually want to catch something that day.
I haven’t heard those New Testament passages in oh, so long. Last fall I went to Israel for the first time. I visited the supposed burial place of Christ, the simple white-stone/green-plants/no-gold-ornaments Protestant cemetery outside the city wall—not the ornate, candle-smoky darkness of the Orthodox supposed-burial spot in the tourist-filled Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This Easter morning on the damp log, I recalled the stillness of that Jerusalem cemetery, and how three friends and I marveled at the quiet there, given the traffic and bustle of the city just some-hundred yards away. I remember I cried a bit there, softly singing a song in memory of my father who would have been so pleased and relieved to know his errant daughter was actually at the empty tomb of Christ.
Then another woman stood to lead a rustic communion service. Inadvertently, I’d sat closest to her. I could hardly listen to her prayer, worried that she might start the serving with me when I didn’t know the protocol—do they all sip from the same cup? what do I do with the bread? Whew. She didn’t start with me. Instead those who wanted to take communion rose and formed a line; she handed each a chunk of bread to dip in the chalice of wine held by another, beside her. Oh my, that was tasty bread. I wonder what bakery uptown makes that?
I confess here that it’s taken me a long time to find a way to grok the Eucharist, the “communion” service, the celebration of the Last Supper, the Mass. I grew up engaging in the ritual, with grape juice and white-bread cubes, but honestly, it’s been a big-nothing to me. What do you mean, we’re eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ? After years of puzzling about it, I’ve made peace with the Lord’s Supper: it’s an event that represents a willingness to symbolically take loving and Christ-qualities into ourselves. I can handle ingesting love.
The little Vashon Sunrise Service ended with the group limply to sing “I Can See Clearly Now” by Jimmy Cliff. Maybe we all recognized it, but we certainly couldn’t carry the tune. I thought about how un-group-singable most modern music is unless there’s either a recording or instruments to support the singers. That’s why I stick to folk songs or hymns—you know, simple rhythm, simple melody, coherent lyrics, and plenty of repetition.
Then the service is over; the fish is fried. Most celebrants leave. The remaining few are handed paper plates and plastic forks. I don’t want to miss this part. I dig into a fragment of the salmon, cooked while we worshiped. It’s tender and delicious.
When I got into my car, I burst into “Up from the Grave He Arose!” Now in my mind,THAT is a song worth singing at Easter dawn. I could almost hear my daddy singing it.