LAKEWOOD RANCH -- On an Easter Sunday morning that started off overcast, but ended with sunlight, thousands in East Manatee celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
At Harvest United Methodist Church off Lorraine Road, three Easter services drew a total of 2,000 worshippers, said the Rev. Steven Price, co-pastor of the 16-year-old church with his wife, Catherine Fluck Price.
"Shortly after the 8 a.m. outdoor service began, when we were talking about how Jesus had been buried in the tomb and was not there when the tomb was opened, the sun broke through," said Steven Price. "It is something I will always remember. It was like light filling the darkness of the world."
Manatee County believers, including many in churches and at festivals held at home, celebrated the return to life of Jesus Christ three days after being crucified.
Although the Prices couldn't know the sun would break through pre
cisely during the 8 a.m. service, the co-pastors are known for the detail they put into planning for special events and Easter was no different.
As the crowd walked under the building's portico, artist Callie MacLeod was painting her vision of the scene at the tomb when the grave of Jesus is empty.
"You are fantastic," church member Cissie Angelo told MacLeod when she saw the painting, which MacLeod calls "Go and Tell."
The painting has spiraling energy waves coming outward from the tomb.
MacLeod, a member of Harvest from the beginning when the church met at Lakewood Ranch High School, paints quickly, using acrylic paint on watercolor paper, to form the picture she says is in her mind.
"Go and Tell" shows two women, Mary Magdalene and another Mary, rushing from the opened tomb to tell Christ's disciples Jesus has overcome death.
Painting it before thousands of onlookers was also a personal statement for MacLeod, she said.
"Jesus has transformed my life," MacLeod said.
MacLeod said she has battled clinical depression and, despite medicine and counseling that eased the pain, still felt lonely.
"I was missing something," MacLeod said.
She had heard about Harvest and stopped in one day to hear a message from the Prices. The next time she came, Catherine Price said to her: "Hi, Callie," MacLeod said.
"I was shocked," MacLeod said. "She knew my name."
Sixteen years later, MacLeod, who was baptized Jan. 16, 2001, at Harvest, has become director of the church Sprouts school and has a friend in Christ.
"To have Him to talk to and to know that He loves me, even though I don't understand everything, is wonderful," MacLeod said. "I tell people, just go to a church and try to join a small group there. Also, just open the Bible and see what happens."
Bonnie Dahl, a church member from Myakka, said she woke up on Easter "thinking about forgiveness."
"What was his purpose in coming down here and dying for us if we continue to be mean to each other?" Dahl asked. "What have we done? We must begin expressing kindness and forgiveness."
Harvest host Wal Jungmeyer manned the front door of the church and said to each guest, in a bold voice: "He has risen!"
Most people said back to him, 'Yes, He has,' " Jungmeyer said.
Jungmeyer said his response would be bit different if someone said it to him.
Said Jungmeyer: "My reply would be, 'Thank God.' "
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.t