Easter Sunrise

Holy Week 2018 Worship Planning Series

Easter Sunrise Service 2018, Year B

Easter Sunrise is an early morning service built on the framework of the Great Vigil of Easter. It moves from contemplation to celebration. 


Reading Notes

The Easter Sunrise Service, per se, appears to be primarily an American Protestant and largely Evangelical Protestant invention. While Moravians lay claim to the first Sunrise Service (in 1732), that service bears little resemblance to more typical Sunrise Service practices that developed later, and likely independently, in other traditions. No proper readings are assigned to it in the Revised Common Lectionary because the service does not have wider ecumenical or historical grounding. The service we have provided for Easter Sunrise this year borrows from the established readings for Easter Vigil, Year B (Ezekiel 37, Romans 6, and Mark 16). The service is also loosely structured based on the Easter Vigil.

NRSV texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service are available at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé

Calendar Notes

The sanctuary is restored to its full glory, colors are white or gold, and flowers may abound today and throughout the Great 50 Days of Easter Season until its final celebration on Pentecost, when the colors are red.

This particular service is generally held outdoors or in an indoor location other than the main worship space. Whether outdoors or indoors at an alternate location, bring plenty of flowers, especially white or gold flowers, and if you are an ordained deacon or elder and wearing your stole, be sure to bring out your best white or gold one.

For Your Planning Team — Easter Sunday: Sunrise Service


The tide has turned from death to resurrection, from sorrow to amazement, from despair to rejoicing. Christ is risen. Death is conquered. Christ is risen. Sin’s power is gone. Christ is risen. New creation had dawned.

As mentioned in the Reading Notes above, we have designed this service roughly on the model of the Easter Vigil, the historic and ecumenical (East and West, Roman and Protestant) first of three services (masses) for Easter. The Easter Vigil itself is an extended service of four movements: Fire, Word, Water, and Table. We use three of those basic elements here.

The Fire Movement in the Easter Vigil begins with a bonfire outdoors from which is lit the Paschal Candle which will be used throughout Easter Season and at all baptisms and Christian burials throughout the succeeding year. We allude to that by suggesting this service be celebrated around a bonfire outdoors and the possibility of everyone holding candles lit from it.

The Word Movement in the Easter Vigil is an extended set of readings recounting the history of God’s saving acts leading up to the time of Jesus. The five great themes of that history are Creation, Exodus, Kingdom, Exile, and Restoration. For this service, we use two of the readings from the Easter Vigil in this part of the service, Ezekiel 37 (which points to both Exile and Eestoration, and which began our Good Friday service) and Romans 6.

Romans 6 is the most complete description of the theology of baptism in the New Testament. It is used in the Easter Vigil as a strong tie to the third movement, Water. Historically and ecumenically, it is at the Easter Vigil on Saturday night that baptisms are performed, rather than at one of the other two services on Easter Day, though baptism is considered appropriate on every Sunday in Easter Season. We have provided primarily for a service of baptismal reaffirmation for this service, though we have provided a link for a full baptismal service as well. United Methodists have outstanding resources for the Easter Vigil, relatively few still use it, and those that do find these services are often not well-attended. And though we have a more frequent practice of Sunrise services, those are also typically far less well-attended than the principal service of Easter Sunday. If you desire, you could of course do a full service of baptism as part of this service.

We do not try to include the fourth movement, Table, as part of this service, leaving that for the principal service of Easter Sunday, which follows.

Logistics: Wows, Kapows, Vows, and Towels
Since this service may be observed in a setting other than your typical worship space, and especially if it is outdoors, be sure, as with the opening of the Palm/Passion service, to rehearse your blocking as worship leaders beforehand, to provide for access for persons with mobility issues (or a legal way for such persons to see and hear if they cannot safely get physically to where you are gathering), and that you have provided for sound that enables all to hear. That way everyone can say “Wow” at the bonfire and above all at the resurrection of Christ and the reaffirmation of baptism (or baptism) we celebrate in this service.

This service involves a bonfire. Bonfires take time and in some instances clearance from local officials to construct. Check with your local authorities (often your neighborhood fire department will be able to guide you) and get all needed clearances well ahead of time — preferably weeks ahead of time. These things can take longer than you imagine.

Remember as you offer either baptism or baptismal reaffirmation that while some parts of the service in our ritual are adaptable, the vows are set by Discipline (Par. 217) and are alterable only by General Conference. The “New Service of Reaffirmation” suggested in this service (whether in English or in Spanish or both) uses those established vows verbatim, but frames them with new questions and places them in full on the lips of those who reaffirm. You may adapt the framing questions in ways most appropriate to your context. The vows themselves, however, must remain unchanged.

Finally, a reminder to your team. Whether you do baptism or reaffirmation, people will get wet! So be sure to provide towels for those who may need them! And if you are doing baptism or receiving members, have someone with dry hands to handle the certificates and perhaps another person with dry hands to handle the ritual for you during the baptismal rite itself.

In This Series...

Passion/Palm Sunday 2018 — Planning Notes Holy/Maundy Thursday 2018 — Planning Notes Holy/Good Friday 2018 — Planning Notes Easter Sunday 2018 — Planning Notes