For the past 4or 5 years I’ve received invitations to attend a sunrise service on Easter morning – held on the Great Wall. This year, for the first time, I actually went. We took a group of 50 people (teens and youth leaders, and a few others) to the Great Wall at Huang Hua Cheng. It was my first time to Huang Hua Cheng – that makes 5 different Great Wall locations I’ve visited.
The bus I took left from outside my compound at 3:45am, when it was totally dark out. It was a clear night, with a bright moon and several stars visible. By 4:15 we were outside River Garden (a complex north of Beijing where the youth group meets) and had two buses loaded with a lot of sleepy people. We drove north-west for over an hour, as the light slowly grew. By five it was definitely daylight, and we saw some wonderful scenery as we wove our way up and down hills with large gashes of white rock sticking out of small fluffy greenery. The only thing to detract from a pleasant drive was the constant under-revving of a bus constantly in need of changing down a gear or two. Chugchugchugchug!
Shortly before our arrival, each bus was called to silence and a passage from the Bible about Easter morning was read:
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24:1-8)
From this point on we maintained silence until the service began. At about 5:30am we got off the buses and took two different routes up steep stairs to a spot high above the river valley. My body protested, but I made it up with hardly any pain. We gathered on a platform with an edge that seemed to drop off to nowhere – that’s how steep the steps below it were.
To our left were sharp white cliffs; to our right a series of green ridges; below us, a wide river curve; behind us, a ruined wall section rising to the peak; before us, another ruined wall section running up several points to a high mountain. The white cliffs on the left were rosy with dawn light, and over the next 30 minutes we watched the light slowly touching the hills to either side of us – but never quite rising above the peak in front of us.
John spoke briefly and poignantly about how the cross becomes so commonplace that we forget its meaning; how we can become numb to the deep and crucial truths of Easter and the resurrection. Joe led us in several songs of worship. Between songs, others added prayers and Scripture readings of their own.
Finally, as we sang, the light crested the hill above us and began to move down from the tower behind us and across the platform. We broke into a loud rendition of “Marvellous Light” (complete with the Rev actions, which I think may have been first invented at last year’s sunrise service). There was an even louder version of “Happy Day” and then it was 6:30 and time for us to be on our way. The group slowly dispersed and we made our way to the buses.
The ride back was much sunnier – I was quite warm in the bright bright bright morning light. We got back shortly after 8am and a bunch of us walked up to a nearby McDonalds for breakfast.
Not a bad way to celebrate the most important Christian holiday of all :)