Easter Sunrise: Outdoor Worship

February 11th, 2013

As individuals, we often find peace, comfort, and a close connection to God in a garden. Gardens often provide a space for worship in a neutral setting outside the church for people to gather and share a faith experience.


God raised Jesus Christ from the tomb, and today we meet our Savior in a garden of love and grace.


This morning, this joyous morning, we journey to the tomb with Mary Magdalene and discover the stone is rolled away. An empty grave remains to prove my Savior lives. With joy, we discover that Christ Jesus has risen. Come, let offer praise and thanks to God for fulfilling the resurrection promise.


Christ has risen!
Christ has risen indeed.
Faith, hope, and joy are alive.
A new age is dawning, and death cannot harm us.
God of all creation, we praise you.
God of resurrection and eternal life, we have gathered in this garden to worship you and celebrate your victory.


Loving God, we gather in the early morning of your Resurrection. We have been mourning and weeping believing that you have been taken from us. Instead, you meet us in the garden of new life. Here, in this sacred place, we discover that you are alive, that sin and death cannot defeat you. Now our tears of sorrow turn to tears of joy as we experience your presence among us. Today, we begin to understand that joy comes from grief. You call us to go into the world to share this good news, and because we are not left alone, we can pray your prayer. (All pray the Lord’s Prayer.)


JOHN 20:1-18 (the author recommends The Message)


It was only a few brief days ago that we were witnesses to the trial, crucifixion, and the death of Jesus. Today, oh how today is so very different.

It all began in a garden: a garden of life, a place of refreshment and renewal. Here, most everything is green with life and growth. We read in the Scriptures that both physical life and eternal life have their genesis in a garden setting. Eve, the mother of humanity, was conceived by God and brought forth in a garden; in fact, it was a lush and vibrant garden of comfort and sanctuary. Yet, because of an act of sheer disobedience, she and her husband, Adam, were expelled from this idyllic paradise. Their lives were cast into a wilderness of despair and death. Paradise was now just a memory.

On this early morning of Easter, we hear of yet another garden. A garden of eternal life made possible through our resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried and rose again in a garden setting. Today, we are witnesses to a transformation garden, a resurrection garden.

As we heard in the Gospel reading for this morning, Mary Magdalene is the first to enter this garden, and here, she discovers it was much more than a garden of memories, more than a cemetery to receive the remains of a lifeless body. Mary Magdalene is a principal character in the drama that unfolds in a garden of new life.

Mary Magdalene has returned to this garden of memories to tend to a lifeless body. She is there to more fully prepare and anoint the now dead body of Jesus, but to her amazement, the stone that served to seal the tomb has been rolled away and the body gone, disappeared, nowhere to be found.

No doubt she is panic-stricken, beside herself with fear and worry. In her anxiety and confusion, she runs to Peter and John, and breathlessly panting blurts out, “They took the master from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.” At this moment, she certainly needs a word of confirmation from them. She needs, perhaps more now than ever before, to know that there is a rational explanation for what has taken place. This painful state of unknowing is perhaps the greatest problem she ever faced.

In this dramatic Easter garden account, we too accompany Mary Magdalene and encounter a resurrected Jesus. And, we realize in this experience we encounter once again, that we are the recipients of many, many fruitful blessings. For without that glorious resurrection of Jesus, there would be no hope, no assurance of life eternal. Because he lives, we are provided with the assurance that we will live with him forever and ever. We will live together eternally in the heavenly garden of paradise that God has created. While Mary Magdalene floundered in that garden setting, unknowing, and failing to recognize the resurrected Jesus, we are fortunate to live on the other side of the story. We know the journey Jesus had made, we know the outcome, and we know the hope that abounds.

The Gospel tells us Mary did not recognize Jesus but, rather, thought he was the gardener, a caretaker. How, we wonder, could she not have immediately recognized the one whom she followed and supported and cared for in the days of his earthly ministry? How could she not recognize the one who was so very near and dear to her; the one who chased the demons from her soul, healed her, and forgave her sins? Why, we ask over and over again.

Jesus was different now. He was transformed with a resurrected body that is both physical and spiritual at the same time. We know that when Mary Magdalene finally recognized Jesus and attempted to share an embrace with him, Jesus cautioned, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” The same holds true for us also. As Paul taught, when Christians die, they are transformed with a similar body—spiritual, imperishable, eternal.

Mary Magdalene didn’t remain in that garden with the resurrected and transformed Jesus. Her encounter with Jesus created so much excitement that she knew she must share this good news with others. Full of wonder, full of hope, she again raced to Peter and John and boldly exclaimed, “I have seen the Master!”

For Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John, and for all who follow in the footsteps of Jesus, it was simply the best news ever heard. Yes, Easter is the most glorious day of the year. It is the day we celebrate the joyous news that the Master is alive, that a new, transformed life has blossomed in a garden.

Because Christ Jesus defeated death, he is truly the victorious one. And by his victory, we are given the wonderful promise, “Because I live, you also will live!”
Thanks be to God!


Lord, we have so much to be thankful for this Easter morning. In the chill of the morning air, we do feel the warm blessing of your Spirit. We can rejoice this day because our tendency toward disbelief is overcome by our capacity for faith. We are truly amazed that a cross of crucifixion has been transformed into a symbol of new life, a symbol of eternal life.

We are thankful that you come to greet us in a garden of hope, trust, and faith. We thank you that a dark and empty tomb has emerged into a garden of light and living. In all our days, we shall live for Christ, the resurrected and risen Savior. Amen.


The tomb is empty,
   Christ has risen.
As you journey in faith,
   may your life be full,
   your love be abundant,
   and your hope be eternal.
Live this day and always for Christ Jesus
   because the Risen Christ lives in you.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

excerpted from Worship in the Garden: Services for Outdoor Worship by J. Wayne Pratt. ©2013 Abingdon Press. Used with permission

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