“They didn’t show up, so we’re pretty much making it up as we go along,” the young woman said.
She was sitting with a few others in a small circle centered on a glowing lantern dug into the sand. Its bright light was the focal point for the make-shift concentric swirls of a growing crowd who had gathered for the Easter Sunrise service at Siesta Key Beach. People were still making their way slowly, in twos and threes, along the walkway from the parking lot onto the soft, moonlit sand. They wore sweatshirts and caps, were wrapped in towels and blankets, carried beach chairs and spread out blankets and held the hands of children. All in the chilly pre-dawn darkness to the drumbeat of the waves, as we prepared for the sunrise of Easter Sunday.
There is just something about Easter that makes you feel like you need to come in person. Especially this year. Oh, how valiantly groups scurried to deliver remote Easter services, productions and greetings in 2020. But this year is different. This year, we know how to gather safely. Out of doors. In small family groups. Six feet apart. This year I could come in person. How I delighted in that thought after a year of absence from in-person worship.
Until I heard this young woman acknowledge there was no planned service. Now, what I had seen and heard was starting to make sense.
The cars leaving the lot when I pulled in at 6:20am. The small groups congregating with their associates in front of the pavilion and going no further. The three singers standing in the dark trying to begin a sing-along where no one else was singing. “Tell us what you’d like to sing,” they tried, cell phones illuminating their faces as they searched the lyrics and sang (honestly, not terribly on pitch) acapella. “Ok! Verse 4! Amaazziiing Graacee, how sweeeet the sounnnd.”
Normally, this Easter Sunrise service was organized as an outreach by a nearby Presbyterian church. Apparently this year, “out of an abundance of caution” (if I never hear those words again, it will be too soon!), it had been canceled. These brave souls were gonna make it Easter, anyway!
Not me. Not proud of this, but not me. Not like this. After the weak effort at hymn singing and then hearing the woman admit there was no plan for this service, I packed up my beach chair and headed nearer the oceanside. I could surely offer my thanks to God for Easter by the thrum of the waves, and get an even better view of the sunrise from there. Looking back at the congregated, I did marvel at the many — perhaps 100 or more — who stayed, determined to worship together anyway.
What a missed opportunity to proclaim the risen Christ, I thought, safely from a distance. How many of those who had come or who had come and then left in disappointment really needed to hear this message or might even have heard it for the first time? I mean, who gets up at 5:15am if they’re not serious about this whole Jesus thing?
Alas, if I was… Stevie or Patty or Steve or Don or Sarah or Tom or Rob or Marey … perhaps it would have been different. All of these people have, over the course of this last year, provided excellent Christian nourishment for my soul, by media in its various forms. And they have spoiled me. Here, when faced with the amateur version, I’m out. God bless those who stayed.
For my part, I did commune with the waves. I watched the gulls gather and sing from their choir lofts in the shallows. I marveled at the pinks reflected in the sky and the birds delighting in the sun’s first new rays. I greeted walkers-by, calling Happy Easter on occasion, when it seemed safe to say so. I silently thanked the many individuals with large trash bags who swept through picking up human discards from the beachfront, caring for the earth over which we have been given dominion.
But was this worship? Was this even Easter?
Silently, I departed, after marking the official sunrise at 7:17 am. The clouds overhead promised it would be a good one – lots of rays reflected early over the new day. As I drove into our neighborhood, I nearly screeched to a stop. I couldn’t help my intake of breath when I saw the poor lifeless bunny sprawled across the roadway. Oh, I thought, not on Easter. And then, What if some poor child returned from Easter services only to find the Easter Bunny lying dead on the ground?
As I pulled into my driveway I realized what I surely needed to do.
I gathered some supplies and walked back to the sad scene where the rabbit’s body still lay, its side pierced, its eyes sunken and lifeless. With some difficulty I managed to lift him, remarkably heavy and still warm. I carried his body to an out-of-the-way place and laid him gently under the hedge. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, Easter Bunny. After shoveling a bit of mulch and a few leaves over him, I pronounced a brief word of thanks, in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Saddened, I turned to return home along the paved walkway when a small, chocolate brown bunny caught my eye. He nibbled at the green grass in the shade of a nearby bush, apparently, unconcerned about my presence. Once satisfied, he hopped away out of sight.
And it was Easter.
Did I go back to the burial site to check under the hedge? Not yet.