Local Christians greet Easter morn with joy

Marion and Bob Dedrick of Saranac Lake watch the sun rise over the mountains from the Main Street bridge in Saranac Lake Sunday morning after an Easter sunrise service in the adjacent Riverside Park. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

Easter Sunday dawned with the sun spilling over the mountains. Bob and Marion Dedrick stopped to watch it as they left a sunrise service in Saranac Lake’s Riverside Park, hosted by the First United Methodist Church. As the local senior couple leaned on the railing of the Main Street bridge, Bob put his arm around his wife and kissed her on her cheek.

Easter inspires joy and peace in Christians. Celebrating Jesus Christ’s resurrection reminds them that while darkness, death and bitterness are inescapable and perhaps essential, in the end they are no match for God the creator’s light, life and love.

This had been a true sunrise service, starting at 6 a.m. just before the first rays broke over Mount McKenzie.

“As we gather here, there are other crazy Christians doing the same thing, in towns all over the country,” the Rev. Eric Olsen, pastor of both the Methodist and Lutheran congregations in Saranac Lake, told the nearly 40 people in attendance.

Easter came late this year, so it was only in the 40s at sunrise.

Susan Olsen, left, greets Marlene Martin before their First United Methodist congregation holds an Easter sunrise service early Sunday morning in Saranac Lake’s Riverside Park. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

“When Easter comes early, it can really be cold,” Elwin Hall said after the service.

Saranac Lake’s Lake Flower had thawed, but Mirror Lake, in downtown Lake Placid, was still mostly frozen. There on the shore beside the Adirondack Community Church, another group of Methodists held another sunrise service, although this one was at 6:45 a.m.

“New every morning is your love, O Lord,” the Rev. Derek Hansen said to the gathering of 20 people. Birds chattered as people silently prayed and Hansen’s toddler son whined to his mother that he was cold.

One local Easter tradition was called off this year: Whiteface Mountain Ski Center canceled its 8 a.m. sunrise service atop Little Whiteface, which requires a gondola ride to get there. A woman at the main ski lodge said a rainy forecast had prompted the decision, but as it turned out, sun was the order of the day.

On the Saturday night before Easter, as Jews commemorate Passover, Catholic churches hold vigil Masses at which they turn off all the electric lights and light a fire, and then a single candle.

The Rev. Derek Hansen leads about 20 people in an Easter sunrise service Sunday morning on the shore of frozen Mirror Lake behind Lake Placid’s Adirondack Community Church, of which Hansen is pastor. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

But everyone in the church is holding a candle, too. Priests and altar servers light their candles from the main one and share the flame with churchgoers they pass, each of whom spreads it to those sitting next to them. Eventually, everyone’s face is lit, and the original flame is not diminished.

“I have to admit that this week, lighting that Easter fire was a strange and unusual experience for me,” the Rev. John Yonkovig, pastor of St. Agnes Catholic Church in Lake Placid, said in his sermon Sunday morning.

This week, flames are a heavy concern for Catholics and others around the world after Paris’ 850-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral burned Monday.

“After that ancient roof came tumbling down like a crash of thunder, silence and sorrow was probably the only thing most people could imagine,” Yonkovig said.

“Fire destroys.”

The Rev. John Yonkovig, pastor of St. Agnes Catholic Church in Lake Placid, gives an Easter homily Sunday morning. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

But it also illuminates.

“We know there is darkness in our world … and we lit a fire,” Yonkovig said. “We know that evil and darkness do not have the last word.

“Do you believe in the Easter fire?” he added. “Easter calls us to look on the world with a much different outlook than our culture gives us.” Instead of focusing on tragedy, Yonkovig said to focus on God “transforming darkness into light … death into life.”

In a way, St. Agnes’ soaring ceiling, cross-shaped blueprint and ornate decor echo Notre Dame and other cathedrals of Europe. The Saranac Lake Baptist Church, on the other hand, more resembles a meeting hall. From its white drywall ceiling hang fans instead of chandeliers, easing heat that emerged late in the morning as was compounded by the standing-room-only crowd. (St. Agnes’ 10 a.m. Mass was also packed, by the way.) An acoustic guitarist and drummer accompanied the songs “Up from the Grave He Arose” and “Death Was Arrested,” and kept up the steady, swaying rhythm through the gospel reading, the story of Jesus’ disciples finding his tomb empty.

Pastor Ryan Schneider gave his sermon a surprising introduction, talking about the Wall Drug tourist trap in South Dakota and its famous signs along hundreds of miles of highway. Schneider explained its origin in the 1930s, inviting travelers to stop for ice water or root beer.

People stand at the Saranac Lake Baptist Church’s Easter service Sunday. See more photos of Easter services at CU.adirondackdailyenterprise.com. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

Then he went through the Bible outlining God’s signs foreshadowing how he would sacrifice his son to save humanity. He started with the creation story, how God gave people free will and how they used it to mar his design.

“It’s as if Adam and Eve took a Rembrandt, a da Vinci painting and marked it all over with crayons,” Schneider said.

Schneider also told how God ordered Abraham to commit an “unspeakable act” — to sacrifice his only child, Isaac, a “miracle son” born in his and his wife’s old age. Abraham obeyed, but God called it off at the last minute. Yet through that, “God starts this narrative of, there’s gonna be a father sacrificing a son,” Schneider said.

Schneider noted that in Abraham’s time, other people worshiped other gods that required human sacrifice. The one Jews and Christians worship was not like that. Yet to wipe clean humans’ sin, “a death has got to happen,” Schneider said.

“He stopped Abraham, but he did not stop himself — so that you might have life.”

Pastor Ryan Schneider narrates the story arc of the Bible leading up to Jesus’ resurrection at the Saranac Lake Baptist Church’s Easter Sunday service. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)