"It is not about the bonnets and baskets today," Judy Golden said as she stood on the dark hillside with the whole of the graveyard behind her. "It is all about God today."
The massive trees of the 160-year-old Lexington Cemetery were the only cover for the green cathedral that welcomed nearly 200 people to Sunday's Easter Sunrise Service hosted by the Salvation Army. Underfoot were a carpet of dense dewy grass, gnarled roots, triumphant blue violets and an abundance of white toothwort, whose small white flowers appeared to bow their heads in a show of adoration.
Golden has brought her children here since they were small. They aren't anymore. But this is how their Easter has almost always begun.
Golden says she loves it because it is "simple."
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Others agreed. "How fitting to be here in a cemetery, where the rock was rolled away," said Burt Hankins, who held an old black Bible in his right hand. "And before it is even light."
Saunda Coleman has been here when the lilies around the pond near the makeshift pulpit were frozen and bent over into a solid sheet of ice. Not so this year. This year, it was daffodils that stood tall beside the water in the nearly freezing early morning, waiting patiently for the sun, which struck the tops of the trees first, keeping the flowers biding their time.
The cold kept a few people in their cars, parked near the gathering. They rolled down their windows to listen to the Salvation Army band play, and the impromptu congregation sing I Know That My Redeemer Lives.
A special area was set up for people to sit, although many stood through the service, including the family of Rebecca McDowell, a regular Sunrise devotee. Her nieces and nephews, having a hard time with the time and temperature, were individually wrapped in a country quilt blanket, a lime fleece blanket and a coverlet that proclaimed support for the University of Kentucky Wildcats.
Especially her nephew Christian. That is, until all of a sudden, Anthony Martin, Christian's father, took his sweatshirt off and swapped outerwear with his son. A little father-son sacrifice on a Sunday morning. It was OK if Dad was cold.
Sacrifice was the theme of the day, after all. This one was small in comparison.
Saunda and Tim Coleman were just beginning their Easter worship as the songs and light and birds began to really get the hang of the morning. The Colemans planned to go to their home church's breakfast festivities. Tim would teach Sunday School. They would attend another Easter service, where Saunda would don a hat and heels.
Then there would be a large communal meal. "It's a tradition in black churches," she said, explaining that it is not called lunch but dinner.
Saunda had to prompt Tim to get up for this early, early service, but he said he loves "the surroundings." It is appropriate, they said, that Easter is a heartfelt and sustained celebration of the risen Lord.
You can never start too early with some things.