Friday, April 6, 2012

An Easter on God's Acre

Home Moravian Church, Old Salem, Winston-Salem, NC
by Rev. Dr. Davis Vess

The “Salem” part of Winston-Salem refers to the historic Moravian village of Salem. Every Easter morning, in the early hours of this day, thousands of people, many of them tourists who have come especially for this event, make their way towards the courtyard in front of a 200-year-old church, founded by the Moravians. Before daylight, five hundred members of various brass bands echo hymns from different parts of the city. Everyone converges on Salem Square to listen to the almost mystical-sounding music. As the first hint of the rising sun begins to soften the darkness, a hush falls over the vast throng of worshipers. When the church bell tolls at 6 a. m., the Bishop emerges from the church and announces in a loud, unwavering voice, "Christ is Risen!" And the crowd thunders back, "Christ is Risen indeed!" Then the band begins to play "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," and everyone joins in the singing there in front of the church.

God's Acre, Old Salem, Winston-Salem, NC
Then, in total silence, they walk in faithful procession to "God's Acre," an ancient cemetery, where all the graves, with their newly-polished gravestones, are covered with flowers. Even the oldest graves, some of them dating back three hundred years, are decorated with forsythia, jonquils, tulips, azaleas - whatever happens to be blooming at the time. The service concludes there, with more singing and remembrance of those who have died since the previous Easter. There, in the awesome silence, with the beauty of the flowers all around, it's as if the living are united with the dead in worship. A writer who witnessed the event said, "When you are in the midst of all this majesty and beauty, you cannot fail to believe in the resurrection."

And so it is in thousands of churches of every denomination all around the world on this greatest of days, Easter. The Day of Resurrection. The day of joy and hope. The central day of our faith and witness. Christmas is nice, but it's not Easter. Anybody can get excited about Christmas, giving and receiving presents, oohing and aahing over the baby born in Bethlehem. But when you come right down to it Christmas would not be Christmas without Easter.

David Vess is the pastor of Swift Creek Baptist Church in Raleigh. This article originally appreared in their church newsletter, the Swift Creek Chronicler.

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