For many Christians, sunrise services are the closest experience they will get to being at the first Easter morning more than 2,000 years ago.
“When Christians gather for a sunrise service on Easter, it is not the rising sun they worship, but the risen Son (of God),” Lanier Christian Church minister David Simpson said.
For the first time, Lanier Christian Church is hosting its sunrise service at 7:15 a.m. Sunday at Gainesville Marina, 2145 Dawsonville Highway, in Gainesville.
But it’s not the first time the church has had lakeside services. Lanier Christian Church offers a lake service at the marina’s pavilion at 10 a.m. each Sunday in the summer.
“Lanier Christian Church is located near Lake Lanier, so we use nautical themes throughout our programs,” Simpson said. “Our church logo is ‘Christ is our Anchor.’”
A couple of other Gainesville churches have opted to move closer to the water to make their sunrise services a bit more refined.
Free Chapel will conduct a worship service at Lanier Islands at 7 a.m. Sunday in Buford.
Jason Vernon of Free Chapel said the pastor will try to have the service correspond with the sunrise, which is set for 7:28 a.m. Sunday.
“People love celebrating Easter in this moment (at sunrise),” he said. “We have live worship and first-time guests will receive a special gift.”
This will be Free Chapel’s first sunrise service at Lanier Islands, but the church and resort have worked together before.
Gainesville First United Methodist Church will have its sunrise service at 6:30 a.m. on its property by the lake. The service starts an hour before sunrise, allowing the sermon to close as light begins to spread across the lake.
“People come in their blankets and coats in the dark, just like Mary and Martha did as they were on their way to prepare Jesus’ body,” Gainesville First UMC senior pastor Terry Walton said. “When they got to the tomb, it was empty. He had risen from the grave.”
Despite the early morning hours, the service does not only see regular members attending.
“There are regular members as well as people who don’t have a church home that come,” Walton said. “It’s a neat way to celebrate their Christian faith, and everyone is invited.”
For Grace Episcopal Church in downtown Gainesville, Easter Sunday is just the climax to a weeklong program of activities. Grace Episcopal provided a foot-washing service on Maundy Thursday and Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.
Tonight, the church will have The Great Vigil of Easter service with a fire starting outside and the light then brought inside.
“This is to make the new light, to formally transition to celebrate the resurrection,” said the Rev. Stuart Higginbotham, rector of Grace Episcopal.
The church will then have two Easter services at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. with a continental breakfast in between.
First Baptist Church of Gainesville also will provide breakfast after its earlier service.
“We have a service at 7 a.m. inside the church and at the end we go outside on the lawn,” First Baptist Church associate pastor Will Dyer said. “It’s symbolic.”
The church will then hold a baptism service followed by the Easter worship in the sanctuary.