Outdoors: Easter Sunrise Service at Red Rocks

Why you should attend at least once in your life.
April 3 2013, 11:10 AM

This past Sunday, I did something I haven’t done in 15 years: I went to church on Easter. Well, to be fair, it wasn’t church. It was Red Rocks—the 66th annual Easter Sunrise Service at Red Rocks. I’m not exactly religious, but when a group of friends decided to plan the outing, I figured it was one of those things that every Denverite should do once. How many people get to watch the sun come up from a setting as majestic and inspiring as Red Rocks on a day this significant (religiously, spiritually, for family reasons, or in whatever way Easter is meaningful to you).

So, in the wee hours of Sunday morning (and I do mean wee…as in 3:45 a.m.), I grappled for the alarm, rolled out of bed, and bundled up for pre-dawn temps that were supposed to hover in the 30-degree range. The service was set to begin at 6 a.m., but we’d been told the traffic was worse than that for a concert at Red Rocks. So after a 4:30 a.m. departure, we made it to Morrison in plenty of time. As it turns out, we planned wisely. Nearly 12,000 people, a record-breaking crowd, trickled into the service.

As I huddled under my blanket, clutching a thermos of hot tea and listening to the gospel tunes rise and fall, I thought for a moment that maybe this wasn’t my place—that I was out of my element. When Rev. Dr. Janet Forbes, president of the Colorado Council of Churches, took the stage for the call to worship, I listened to the shouts of Christ has risen indeed!, but remained silent during the “people’s portion” of the address. I don’t know psalms and verses and what prophet said this or that. Would it be strange to join in the chorus? I felt a bit like an intruder.

But then I looked around at the thousands of people. Some were enraptured. Some were sleepy. Some were whispering with their families. Some were rocking infants. I wondered what religion they all were, what churches they all went to, what possessed them to get up in the chill of 4 a.m., and what the rest of this biblical day would be like for each of them. There’s no common answer for all of those things... and that’s when I abandoned the faint voice in my head that said I had no business being there. That diversity was the very point of this Easter gathering at Red Rocks—to bring these very different people together for one experience that we could all share, even though it meant so many different things to all of us sitting in that amphitheater.

Rev. Dr. Jim Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches, gave the sermon as a fiery sun rose behind the stage over the eastern plains. He spoke of things that were amazing, and of God’s grace; the service concluded with a rendition of “Amazing Grace.” As the glowing ball of orange light floated higher in the sky, I looked around at all the faces, squinting now, awake under the light glancing off the brilliant red stone that engulfed us. Most of them were singing along to “Amazing Grace.” I hummed the tune this time, and thought how amazing it was that we, of all different faiths and beliefs and philosophies, were here in this special Colorado place at the same moment to witness something so beautiful. It didn’t matter what verse we were repeating or who we were thanking for our salvation. It mattered that we were here, watching something so elusive, and yes...amazingly graceful.