If Jesus was discovered in his tomb on that day 2,000 years ago, Manatee and Sarasota county residents probably wouldn’t be waking up for Easter break-of-dawn community services in the open air or getting into their finest attire for church services Sunday.

There probably wouldn’t even be a Christian faith, some local pastors say.

But that is not what happened, according to scripture. Jesus did rise and live again. And Sunday, which celebrates his new life, is now the most important day on the Christian calendar for what it symbolizes to mortal man, pastors said.

“If Jesus had died and there was no empty tomb, people would have probably considered Jesus just a good person who lived and died,” said Catherine Fluck Price, co-pastor of Harvest United Methodist Church on Lorraine Road, where Easter services are 6:30, 8, 9 and 10:30 a.m.

“But because of the empty tomb, we know that God has the power to overcome anything, even death,” Fluck Price added. “We know God loves us enough to overcome any sin in the world for us, even our death, and offer us new life.”

Easter is the day that casual Christians are often drawn to church because it’s a day of hope, said the Rev. Banks Corl, an associate pastor at Woodland, The Community Church, on State Road 70 just east of Interstate 75, where 3,000 are expected for the 9 and 10:45 a.m. Easter services. “It was Paul, the Apostle, who said, ‘If Christ wasn’t risen, our faith is empty,’ ” Corl said.

By defeating death, Christ put all the pieces of the puzzle together, said the Rev Dick Brown, of Fellowship Alliance Church, 69th Street East, Palmetto, which has a 7:30 a.m, Easter service.

“The cross is God’s instrument to eradicate the cancer of sin,” Brown said. “But the empty tomb is God’s instrument to eradicate death. You need someone with the power to do both things and it happened in Christ.”

More than 1,500 are expected to bring their blankets and lawn chairs for the 6:30 a.m. Easter Sunrise Service on Sunday at Rossi Waterfront Park, said event coordinator the Rev. Wendell Wilson.

“Some people don’t want to go into a church building, but they want to enjoy a morning with God,” Wilson said of the event, which takes place near the corner of Seventh Street and Third Avenue.

“It’s on the water. It’s beautiful. You hear the birds sing. You watch the sun come up. I know, I’ve been a part of this for 26 years and every year I feel God’s presence.”

“My Redeemer Lives,” which has become the traditional sunrise song at Rossi Park, will be performed this year by Shirley Johnson, of Church on the Rock in Palmetto.

Johnson’s pastor, the Rev. Tad Mathews , will deliver the message, the Salvation Army Band will perform, along with the Loving Hands men’s singing group and singer Nancy Wilson.

The Hernando DeSoto Society, which helps put on the event, will collect the offering, which then will be directed to Manatee Religious Services.

For the second year in a row, the sunrise service in Palmetto at the foot of the Green Bridge will be combined with the Rossi Park event, said the Rev. Joseph Schroeder, president of the North River Ministerial Association.

“For the sake of spirit and unity, we decided to join together with our brothers and sisters at Rossi Park,” Schroeder said.

Church on the Rock, Palmetto Assembly of God, Friendship Alliance Church, Palm View Baptist and Palmetto Church of the Nazarene, will send about 250 congregation members across the river to add their voices in Rossi Park, Schroeder said.

When he was 5, Corl, who did not grow up in a practicing Christian home, was watching his mother fold laundry and he realized his mortality.

“Mom, I’m going to die,” he told his mother.

“No, you are not,” she told him.

But Corl knew his body would die.

“I knew one day I would face God and I wanted to know what it would be like,” Corl said.

Corl said he now believes he will meet Christ when he dies and have the eternal life.

And what will he say the moment he sees Jesus?

“I think I will say, ‘Oh my God!’” Corl said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.