John D. Pierce

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"Sunrise Memories"

 

 

   

“Time to get up.” Faintly, I could hear those words coming from the foot of my bed and quickly recognized the voice of my father. Nothing thereafter happened quickly.

The gradual opening of my groggy eyes revealed nothing but darkness. It seemed as if just moments ago my head had come to rest on the soft pillow.

Then I remembered that this was a different kind of morning.

With extra effort — and to avoid a second call to rise — my feet hit the cool hardwood floor. In less than full consciousness, I searched for my most readily available clothes. Soon my brothers were awake and moving about as well, but we said nothing to each other like we would have on a school day.

But then, this was a different kind of morning — we all knew.

Within moments, and still with hardly a word spoken, the entire family stumbled out of the house into the predawn morning air where the headlights of our old Pontiac station wagon glared in the darkness.

There was stillness — even a sense of reverence — as we made the short trip up to the top of the ridge, and turned left on the gravel drive. The crunching sound beneath the tires was exaggerated in the otherwise early morning solitude.

Now more fully awake, I sensed a strangeness about coming to this place at such an unusual time. The straying beams from other cars encircling the community cemetery created an eerie effect as the lights reflected off the granite and marble tombstones.

Surely this was a different kind of morning from all the rest.

Exiting our parked cars we walked gently across the dew-dampened grass freshly mowed by members of the local LIONS club. Only when we got very close to the growing crowd could I begin to recognize those I knew so well.

Many of the men were unshaven, and everyone dressed casually. I made eye contact with other children, but any communication was nonverbal.

The slightest hint of dawn now revealed a hastily made cross of two pieces of pressure-treated lumber that had been set in the ground. Without instruments or warmed voices we sang.

Then the pastor opened his well-worn Bible and read these words: But the angel answered and said to the women: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead.”

By now the nearby water tower with the tall ladder was visible in the morning light. There were more words and music, but I don’t really remember them.

After a prayer of dismissal, we exchanged a few pleasantries and headed toward our car — careful not to step on any grave. We had been taught that act of respect. Besides, in a small community you never know who might be related to whom.

Within moments the same cars that departed the cemetery now entered the church parking lot. Gathering in the fellowship hall beneath the church sanctuary, the previously serene crowd was now almost boisterous.

Loud greetings and laughter flowed as plates were filled with country ham, eggs, grits, biscuits and red-eye gravy.

For us kids, there were milk and orange juice in Dixie Cups while the adults enjoyed piping hot coffee from the large percolator often borrowed from the church for family reunions. We gathered around folding tables and sat in chairs that squeaked on the well-waxed floor.

Even when our plates were empty and our stomachs full, we knew there was more to come on this different kind of morning.

We would soon return home to wash our faces, comb our hair and dress in our new Sunday outfits. Of course, some of us found our designated clothes to be that which our older brothers had worn the previous Easter.

The church drew its biggest crowd of the year that day. And there were more hats and shades of pastel than usual.

The choir had flipped the stoles on their robes from the green to the gold side and sang their best. And the pastor’s new Palm Beach suit (with a coordinating second pair of slacks for Sunday evenings) was the envy of all men.

Of greatest distraction — at least to me — was the lingering aroma of the earlier breakfast making its way up through the floor vents. But the significance of the day had already been embedded in my mind from the words that were read as the sun was starting to rise over Boynton Ridge: Do not be afraid … He is risen from the dead.

Indeed, this was a different kind of morning.

 

[This article has appeared in E Street Journal and Baptists Today. © John D. Pierce]