Overlooking rows of bright green grapevines lined with California poppies and red roses, Jameson White with Fresno/Madera Youth for Christ led a sunrise Easter service with a message of hope: “The darkness that some of us have come here feeling – it might not be a tomb, it might be a womb.”
These words touched Joann Gutierrez, one of around 40 people who gathered at Moravia Wines early Sunday morning for the unconventional outdoor sunrise service.
“We can take something that we feel maybe is killing us or is just difficult and make it a womb – a birth, a new experience, a new life,” Gutierrez says. “You can create a new life.”
There’s hope, there’s peace, there’s reconciliation, there’s a brighter tomorrow because of the Resurrection.
The Rev. Andrew Smith of The Bridge Church
This concept is what Easter is all about for Christians – the celebration of the belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion.
“It’s something special,” said 11-year-old Jace Gutierrez while sitting happily beside his family in the vineyard.
Wendi Hammond of Moravia Wines hopes the small intimate service, which included a tranquil acoustic guitar performance, helps people appreciate the beauty of the central San Joaquin Valley and the significance of Easter. She’s organized an Easter sunrise service at the winery for the past several years.
“Really, the story of Easter is visible in the newness of the vines every year … the leaves are new, the grapes are on there – hiding, but you can see them, little tiny babies – and it’s just like life starts over,” she said.
White saw the symbolism in the sun rising over the vines, too: “Light following darkness, seeing the beauty of what God’s made. God’s plan is to redeem creation – that’s what he’s about, redeeming creation, and Resurrection is a part of that. He’s bringing back to life things which have died.”
White is praying this Easter for the “flourishing” of people experiencing struggles or disappointment, “that they find new life and hope through Jesus – that’s my prayer for our community, but also for our world.”
This is the Super Bowl for churches.
The Rev. Andrew Smith of The Bridge Church
Across the city at Chukchansi Park, Easter worship took on a different feeling as hundreds sang along to live Christian music in the stadium. As one song ended, a man in the crowd raised both arms and proclaimed with excitement: “We’re at a baseball stadium!”
The Rev. Andrew Smith of The Bridge Church, which sponsored the event, called Easter the “Super Bowl for churches.”
“There’s hope, there’s peace, there’s reconciliation, there’s a brighter tomorrow because of the Resurrection,” Smith said.
He said The Bridge chose the stadium for this year’s Easter service and celebrations – a first for the church – with the aim of doing more to reach out to the community.
“This is part of our renewed vision to be a church for the Valley, and in order to be that, you’ve got to go out to reach people,” said Smith, who became The Bridge’s lead pastor seven months ago. “And for a lot of people, who have never been to church, one of the biggest hurdles to going to church is a traditional church building because sometimes that comes with a cultural depiction, a personal hurt – whatever the case might be.”
His big message: A belief in God offers people direction, meaning and significance.
Easter is a reminder of our beginning.
The Rev. David Reed of Saint Patrick Catholic Church
After the service, The Bridge provided free lunch and family-friendly activities, including bounce houses, photo booths, and egg hunts and races. Justin and Tami Woodward of Clovis brought their 18-month-old son, Jayden, to enjoy the fun. Justin Woodward’s hope for Jayden’s Easter: “Pure joy, unspeakable joy.”
Woodward said he was looking forward to watching all the children play and “getting a view into heaven” by being outdoors under sunny skies. He hopes newcomers to his church “let the seeds make roots.”
“If you have roots, you can do anything. Roots would be just his (Jesus Christ’s) hope, his joy and his peace, wisdom and knowledge,” Woodward explained.
It was a more formal atmosphere at Saint Patrick Catholic Church in Kerman on Easter morning. The Rev. David Reed told parishioners who filled the large church that Jesus Christ’s story does not end with the Resurrection.
“It goes on to include us,” Reed says, “because all that Jesus did was for our salvation.”
Reed said that unlike Jesus, who knew the end of his own story, churchgoers are still writing theirs and that Easter is a good time to reflect on their lives.
“If there is to be suspense, it begins now,” Reed says. “Such suspense is our own doing, it does not depend on God. We have freedom to make our own choice. How will our story end? That is up to us.”