BRADENTON -- Slowly and methodically in the dark Sunday morning, people made their way to Veterans Memorial Park along the Manatee River to watch the sun rise and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Resurrection Celebration, the annual sunrise Easter service sponsored by the Hernando DeSoto Historical Society, Manatee Ministries Association and the North River Ministerial Association, draws more than 150 people to Bradenton’s waterfront each year.
The event has become a tradition for Jim and Nancy Smart of Ellenton. “We like the sunrise service,” said Nancy Smart. “It’s peaceful. It’s very spiritual with the sunrise. It’s a nice experience.”
The Salvation Army Band opened with hymnal music as people settled into their seats. Dr. Wendell C. Wilson thanked the crowd for their patience as organizers switched power to a generator from the Salvation Army Disaster Services truck when it was discovered the electric was not working at the park.
“We thank you that you cared to get up early and be here so that we can lift Jesus name high,” he said. “So let’s give us a good cheer as we praise the Lord.”
The crowd applauded.
“Alright we’re alive!” said Wilson. “Jesus is alive.”
Rev. William Pierson of Joy Fellowship and the Salvation Army band led the crowd in singing the hymn “He lives.” He told the crowd to sing “louder than that generator.”
Pierson then reminded the crowd about the reason for Easter.
“Back 2,000, there was no confusion as Jesus said I am out of this place,” said Pierson. “I’m alive. Can you say amen?”
The crowd responded with “amen.”
Everyone joined in singing “He Arose.” An offering was taken by the Hernando DeSoto Conquistadors, which would be going to helping less fortunate people in the community through Manatee Religious Services.
The Loving Hands Men’s Chorale sang a couple of songs before the Rev. Gary Eldred of Faith United Methodist Church delivered the Easter message.
Eldred took his message directly from the New Testament’s book of Mark, telling the story of Jesus’ resurrection. When the women found the empty tomb, they were grieving because Jesus was gone. They did not believe he had risen from the dead.
But Eldred reminded the crowd to learn from the women’s experience. “We do not have to grieve like those who have no hope,” he said. “We as Christians have hope. Because of our hope in Jesus Christ, the resurrected Lord of Easter, we do not grieve as those with no hope. That really is the message of Easter.”
Eldred continued to tell the story of the resurrection, and how thrilled people were to find that Jesus had risen from the tomb. Then, the park sprinklers came on, and many ran for cover as organizers scrambled to find ways to contain the water.
“Another good way to remember this day,” remarked Eldred.
Eldred continued to tell the resurrection story, and how people can be easily tempted to not believe what Jesus says.
“Jesus promised to never leave us or forsake us,” said Eldred. “Because of what Jesus had told them, the women should have gone to the tomb seeking life, not death.”
“Let’s rejoice in the promise of God,” said Eldred. “Let’s rejoice in Jesus and in what he said he was going to do.”
In the benediction, Salvation Army’s Major Ethan Frizzell told the crowd to “sound the trumpet.”
“Hallelujah!” he said. “Christ has risen! Go forth in the strength of the Lord.”
Afterwards, snowbirds Mike and Kris Garrette called the Easter service “terrific,” even though Mike Garrette held his foot over one of the sprinklers almost the entire time.
“I thought it was wonderful,” he said. “We were riveted with why we were here with the rising sun and the risen Son.”