The church congregation I belong to has held an Easter Sunrise service for at least 40 years.
The past two years, however, COVID-19 has thrown a virus into the works. Health restrictions prohibit any gathering of people. And any singing.
This year, for some reason that I cannot fully define, I felt that I needed a sunrise service.
If we couldn’t have one collectively, I decided, I would have one individually.
This is why I found myself, half an hour before dawn on Easter Sunday, climbing a steep trail up Spion Kop, a local peak.
Spion Kop is not really much of a mountain. At least, not here in rugged B.C. It rises about 1,700 feet (a little less than 600 metres) above Okanagan Lake, but it’s still lower than the mountains on either side of the lake.
I realized, as my feet stumbled up the rocky trail, that I was re-enacting a 2,000-year-old tale.
On Easter morning, the Bible says, the women disciples came to the tomb before dawn, to provide last rites for the man they believed in. They came as soon as it was light enough to see the path. They couldn’t come the day before, because it was the Sabbath, the prescribed day of rest, the day when devout Jews do nothing that could be considered work.
Jesus’ dead body had been taken down from the cross late on Friday, and hastily placed in a borrowed tomb.
The Sabbath began at sunset that day. It wouldn’t end until sunset on Saturday. Sunday morning was the earliest those women could prepare Jesus’ physical body for its final rest.
My feet were clad in hiking boots. Theirs would have been in sandals. But we both slipped on loose rocks. We heard gravel crunch under our soles. And we went in silence.
They came to the top of their ridge. And in the first rays of the new day, they saw that the rock which had been rolled to block the entrance to a cave dug into the rock had been rolled away.
And the tomb was empty.
Mark’s gospel more or less ends there, with the empty tomb. The other three gospels elaborate, providing details of interactions with angels, young men and Jesus himself.
I didn’t see any of those on my mountain.
I kept climbing until I reached a rocky knoll, beneath a tall Ponderosa pine.
The eastern sky was cloudy. Then, at just the right moment, the clouds parted for a few minutes. The bright yellow disk of the sun clawed its way through the black trees on the far ridge. Long shafts of sunlight flooded across my hillside.
And I sang. At the top of the hill, at the top of my lungs: “Morning has broken, like the first morning…”
And Jim Strathdee’s “Dance with the spirit, early in the morning…”
And the South African anthem, “We are marching in the light of God…”
I was still singing as I came down the mountain.
Most Easter sunrise services, we read the old story. We talk the talk.
This Easter, I walked the walk.
It was worth getting up before the sun.
Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.