A Sunrise Service


WE arrived the day before Easter Bethlehem on the Lehigh, in time for the love-feast which takes place on the afternoon of Saturday. We sat among the “ brothers ” and “ sisters ” in the great church, together with their children of all ages, — for Moravians acquire the church-going habit in babyhood ; we joined in the hymns, both German and English ; after which we partook with cheerful solemnity of the light brown, spongy buns, and the delicious coffee served in large white mugs. We went to our beds in the old Sun Inn very early that night, knowing that the morning would begin several hours before daybreak.

At three o’clock we were awakened in that gradual, delicious manner which is rarely effected save by music. The trumpeters had begun their rounds. Starting from the church, — having played a preliminary carol in the steeple, — they go through the old town, then across the river into South Bethlehem ; joyously, if somewhat boisterously, proclaiming the dawning of Easter.

Already is heard the pattering of hastening feet upon the slate pavements. We do not hurry ourselves ; consequently, two thousand people get into the church before us, while hundreds stand outside. We are able to reach only the inner vestibule door, whence we have a view of the big pulpit arch decorated for the festival. The white of lilies and the green of palms show upon a background of Florida moss. An anthem by the choir, a brief litany, a hymn or two ; then the three clergymen, preceded by the trombones, pass out through the east door, and the congregation follows them. The crowd without separates, and lines either side of the broad brick walks of the parochial grounds.

Slowly upward moves the procession toward the graveyard lying on the ridge of the hill. A gibbous moon still hangs high in the west, but the eastern sky is smokygray and pink. As the clergy enter the cemetery gates, the horns play a joyful marching choral. In orderly fashion all the people now assemble, filling the paths, pressing close upon the edge of the grass, yet always respecting the graves. Those old, old graves ! Some of the small flat stones tell that they have lain there almost a century and a half. Here are Count Zinzendorf’s earliest Indian converts; there lies the count’s second wife. Here is the latest interment, but the name upon the slab is one of the oldest ; this man’s greatgreat-grandfather assisted at the first Easter celebration in 1742. There is no sadness in this garden of the dead ; undue mourning not being a part of the Moravian creed. The graveyard is a pleasure ground, where children play in the daytime, nor fear to cross it at night ; where friends meet and chat together ; where even lovers stroll, or sit happily upon the benches.

The three priests, with uncovered heads, have taken their places at the end of one of the great rectangular, tomb-dotted lawns. Behind them stand the trumpeters. A hush seems to fall out of the frosty sky, but in the tall, bare trees a robin and a song sparrow are tuning their throats. This duet is a not unfitting prelude to the simple service about to take place below.

The bishop, in a scarcely raised voice which penetrates to the farthest lines of people, prays. During his short invocation the eastern rose has turned to gold. Then there bursts from the trombones a peal of Easter melody, and everybody sings. But the human voices and the instruments together cannot drown the song sparrow and the robin. These half-heavenly denizens, from their treetops, have also been watching for the now uprisen sun, and to them has been given the first sight of it.

We try to join in the carol. It is in vain ; we choke, and our eyes fill. But, like dear Sophia Western, we “ love a tender sensation, and would pay the price of a tear for it at any time.” Perhaps we have doubted, denied, “rationalized,” in the past, and we may go forth to do so again ; but just now we believe in the resurrection of the dead. How can we help it? Analogy is not argument ; yet this springtime, this dawn of day, this gentle, vivifying breeze, the breath of the new sun, all say, “ The dead shall rise ! ” Then the faith of this multitude works unconsciously in us, and through sympathy, at least, we find ourselves grasping as a substance “ things hoped for.” These German Moravians — German still, though American for generations — do not suggest in their ordinary lives much that is generally known as sentiment ; yet their observance of this greatest of Church feasts shows that they have retained a primitive purity of poetic feeling hardly to be met with elsewhere in our land. It reminds us that amid the engrossing demands of physical existence, and in spite of a sordid practicality which makes unduly important the homely details of daily life, the heavenly ideal may find a place ; that underneath the most wooden and matter-of-fact exteriors, “ fowks,” to quote Sandy Cupples, “ fowks is metapheesical.”