Sunday, April 8, 2007

Easter Sunrise on Walnut Hill

"After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men." Matthew 28: 1-4


"Nate, time to wake up." Even though mom is not shouting, her voice is louder than my alarm, which had blared and beeped for five minutes without waking me.

Sluggishly, I open my eyes and look to the clock on my nightstand. I blink twice and the blurry red digits slide into focus: 4:50 am.

"There's coffee in the kitchen. I'll be outside setting up. No rain, so we'll be up on the hill. Happy Easter!" Mom leaves the room swiftly, and I wonder to myself just how I missed out on her “morning person” genes.

I step out of bed and dress clumsily, nearly falling over twice as I climb into my own jeans.

In the kitchen, I pour myself a cup of coffee and take a seat by the window. The sky is dark, except for the moon, shining brightly above our barn.

My brother, who did inherit the "morning person" gene, strides into the kitchen.

Setting down my mug, I grunt a jumbled combination of "Good morning" and "Happy Easter." The coffee will take a few minutes to kick in.

Fortunately, Ben is used to my incoherent morning mumblings, and returns the greeting. "Dad's bringing the truck down to the barn,” he tells me, “You ready?"

I tip the mug over my lips and catch the last few drops before grabbing a pair of ratty barn gloves and stepping out into the crisp April morning.

"The angel said to the women, 'do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay." Matthew 28: 5-6


I jog down the hill to our old red hay barn, the brisk air cutting through my lingering sleepiness with every breath. The first traces of morning are touching the night sky now, cloaking the farm in an eerie shade of blue.

Ben and Dad are already tossing hay bales onto the back of the Chevy pickup. I hop into the pickup bed and stack the bales.

Dad throws the last bale on and Ben and I climb the stack, and take a seat at the top. We duck to avoid branches and power lines as he drives up the path. Ahead, the lone, tall tree atop our hill stands out against the fading night sky.

Dad parks the pickup twenty feet from the tree. Ben and I jump down and unload the bales, then arrange them in five rows of four, with an aisle down the middle. It’s a crude sanctuary, bales for pews.

We stack several bales at the front, and place our old Yamaha keyboard on top. In just an hour, family, friends, neighbors, people from church, and even strangers will fill this cold hilltop chapel in the bonds of Christian fellowship.


"Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying... At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
'Woman,' he said, 'why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?'
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.'
Jesus said to her, 'Mary.'
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, 'Rabboni!' (which means teacher.")
Jesus said, 'Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: 'I have seen the Lord!' And she told them that he had said these things to her."
John 20: 10-11, 14-18


Mom is setting up silver pots filled with coffee and hot chocolate on card tables in the barn. Our inquisitive horses poke their gray noses out from their stalls. Several years ago, one of our mares decided to have a foal on Easter, early in the morning. We named the filly "Alleluia.”

People start arriving at 6:30. An assortment of cars transforms our driveway, front lawn, and horse arena into a sprawling makeshift parking lot. I return to the top of the hill and begin to pass out bulletins fresh from our kitchen printer.

Familiar and unfamiliar faces gradually fill the pews of hay. Families bundled up in several layers of sweatshirts huddle together under quilts and small children run around giggling, weaving between the bales, somehow immune to the cold.

I sit down between Ben and Lea on one of the front bales. Mom, seated at the keyboard, begins to play "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" in a faux organ tone, and the sound of our hilltop chorus breaks through the still morning.

In the distance, the sun is rising behind Mount Baker, shooting vibrant rays of yellow across a mellow orange horizon. Trails of light dance off of the clouds and the mountain shines brightly as if the sky burst open right behind it.

As we sing the closing line, "Christ has opened paradise", the significance dawns like the sunrise itself. Christ allowed himself to be mocked and tortured, humiliated beyond comprehension. He died in history’s most gruesome manner, hanging like the most despicable criminal. He endured an inestimable number of eternities in hell for the sins of every single person who ever lived, including each of us here this morning, and yet...

And yet, he conquered sin and even death itself, leaving the promise of redemption. Of paradise.

The sun rises high above the mountains as we worship, illuminating Whatcom County in a golden glow and the wonderful assurance of this promise is cast over our small congregation with the sunlight: Christ the Lord is risen today.



The Easter Sunrise service tradition on our farm was started decades ago by a man named Morton Lawrence (from whom we bought our farm). When my parents bought the property 17 years ago, one of his conditions was that we keep this tradition alive. Every year, my parents faithfully organize this service. We put a notice in the Lynden Tribune, and in our church bulletin. We buy bulk quantities of Cinnamon Rolls, hot chocolate, orange juice and coffee for refreshments after the service. My dad puts together a brief meditation on a variety of themes that connect to the resurrection, and recruits scripture readers (usually my brother and I are among the recruits). Together, we pick songs to sing during the service. If the weather is good, we meet on the hill as I have just described. If it is raining, we meet in the hay barn. In any case, rain or shine, this tradition has caused Easter to stand out in my mind and soul. When I think of Easter, I do not think of a giant pink bunny, or Cadbury Creme Eggs (even though those are pretty good). I think of the sun rising over the mountains as we sing of the greatest truth in history: the promise of redemption, paradise and shalom offered to us by Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord, our Savior.

It is my prayer that all of you will consider this amazing truth on this day, as well. Happy Easter and God Bless!

Nate Gibson

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