One of the many traditions which we have here in Exeter takes place each year on Easter Sunday morning. In the darkness, beginning as early as 5:30 a.m., you can see from a distance the lights of cars as they make their way up Rocky Hill Road towards the summit. One by one, they park along the sides of the road. As people emerge from their cars, they join with those who chose to walk up Rocky Hill, having left their cars at the bottom. With the aid of a flashlight or maybe a cell phone light, people make their way through the opening in the barbed-wire fence and carefully walk up the somewhat steep path, avoiding “cow pies” along the way, of course! 

At the top of the hill a permanent metal cross has been erected. That’s where your attention is directed to first. It’s a good reminder of why you have come. Then, as you gather with the others who’ve already arrived, you notice the beautiful panoramic view of the city of Exeter below. It’s truly an amazing sight! Soon, the dawn light will begin to break through in the eastern sky above the Sierras.

A simple service is planned each year by the Exeter Ministerial Association. It begins with prayer and the singing of a few familiar Easter hymns and choruses. A brief message is given from God’s Word, a benediction and the service comes to a close. There’s something very special about gathering out in the open with other believers this way. It somehow captures some of the hope, joy and excitement of that first Resurrection morning.

I especially remember one year when a Christian drama group was invited to lead our service. Two of the team members spoke to us, using one of their dramatic dialogues. All of a sudden, we heard someone coming up over the crest of the hill shouting and running towards us. It was a little scary at first, but then we understood what he was saying: “He is risen! He is risen!” I still find myself tearing up a bit and feeling a great sense of joy when I think about it.

Other special memories include a high school youth group from one of our churches who used to carry a large wooden cross up the hill every year. That was always a moving experience. A funny thing was when one of the cattle wandered toward our group and began to “moo!” In short, celebrating Easter Sunrise on Rocky Hill is always a very special way to celebrate the Resurrection. Attend your local church if at all possible this Easter, but if you can, why not begin the day of celebration in a place where you can watch the sun rise over the Sierra Nevada mountains? It’s awesome!

By the way, the Easter Sunrise service this year begins at 6:15 a.m. Special thanks to the Gill family who give us permission to gather together on their property each year for this special service!

Jim Newman is pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Exeter. He may be reached by calling 559-592-2367 or by emailing [email protected]. Prays Together is a rotating faith-based commentary and advice column among the pastors, and guest laypeople, of the First Presbyterian Church of Exeter, Church of Christ of Exeter, Nazarene Church of Exeter, Church of God of Exeter, the New Life Assembly of God and Rocky Hill Community Church and Lemon Cove Community Church. 

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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