Easter – “The resurrection of Christ changed the midnight of bereavement into a sunrise of reunion; it changed the midnight of disappointment into a sunrise of joy; it changed the midnight of fear to a sunrise of peace.” — The Rev. Billy Graham
“Nearer, My God, to Thee” apparently was more than just the name of a famous Christian hymn to Father Miller.
As the priest of the small Episcopal church where our family worshiped, Father Miller’s high energy level produced an ever-expanding list of how to improve the church, attendance, and our lives.
One year he decided that the sunrise Easter service would be held atop Medicine Butte, a tall landmark in Lyman County then noted as much for TV towers as for its natural beauty and prominence.
Father Miller’s announcement wasn’t received as the best idea he had ever conceived, but no resistance was forthcoming from the congregation, and so at dawn on that Easter Sunday in the 1960s, Father Miller stood bravely against a gusty and cold north wind, pulled out his sermon and began reading his text:
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above. . .”
With those words, the wind gusted strongly, lifted the stole he wore over his shoulders and wrapped it around his nose and eyes.
He flailed at the tangled garment, finally grasping it with one hand while holding onto his sermon with the other.
As he continued, I found it hard to concentrate on the service, on this holiest day of the church calendar. Why were we freezing to death high above ground level when we could be in a nice warm pew at church?
“The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre and seeth the stone taken away . . . .”
With those words, the wind whistled fiercely, growing to gale force, flipping the pages of Father Miller’s handheld sermon like a casino dealer shuffling cards. Suddenly, his entire vestment billowed up as though he was walking over a large fan. When he attempted to pull it down, his sermon slipped from his hand and the pages fluttered on the wind to the pasture below.
Undaunted, Father Miller freelanced the remainder of the sermon and moved on to the next part of the service.
On the way home, I reflected on what our pastor had tried to accomplish. Was the outdoor ceremony supposed to remind us of the resurrection setting of Jesus?
Many will attend church this Easter Sunday. May your service be as unforgettable as mine was, leaving an indelible memory more than 50 years later.
March 23, 2016