WINSTON-SALEM, NC -- At 6 o'clock the service begins. "He is risen," is heard echoing through the dark cemetery of Old Salem as thousands of people walk from the town square for the 245th Easter Sunrise Service.
In 1772 a group of Moravian men in what is now Winston-Salem gathered in God's Acre, the graveyard of Old Salem. They celebrated Easter as the sun rose behind a hill at the edge of the cemetery. This Easter, 245 years later, the tradition remains.
Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in the historic setting with a sermon similar to the one of 1772. The message draws thousands of people from across the country. This year Lane Sapp, Chairman of the Salem Congregation Board of Elders, gave the sermon. He said it was one of hope.
"I think it's the way we can share a message of hope in a world of violence, a world of terrorism, a world that's often divided," Sapp said. "We can share the message of hope and Jesus Christ and that's such a joy for us as Moravians."
Worshipers sing hymns, recite text and pray throughout the service. The church band plays a large role in the event and has for all 245 years. Peter Wilson Blum's family has always been a part of the musical group - he's been playing at the sunrise service for 70 years. His father, grandfathers, siblings and children all play or played in the church band.
"This is a section of life that we've grown up doing," Blum said.
The band's day begins much earlier than the service. At 2 AM they begin playing throughout the city of Winston-Salem. They say it's to remind people that Jesus Christ has risen and to wake them for the sunrise service. The first choral played by each group is “Sleepers, Wake!”
The Saturday before Easter members of the congregation clean every white marble headstone in the cemetery and lay Easter flowers on the graves. They say it's an expression of hope and provides families an opportunity to speak with loved ones they've lost.
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