Worshipers across Middle Georgia flocked to Easter services Sunday, from sunrise gatherings and early-morning Mass to church celebrations of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
The waning moon was still glowing above the twin spires of St. Joseph Catholic Church when worshipers arrived for the 7 a.m. Mass.
"Our Lord who died now truly lives. To us this promise he now gives," the congregation sang with pipe organ in the entrance hymn that would be sung at each of Sunday’s five services.
The church had already begun the Easter celebration at sunset the night before during Saturday’s vigil, where 14 people joined the parish after weeks of study.
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The barren altars of Good Friday were adorned with dozens of lilies and yards of golden linen draped over the marble.
"Today we celebrate the resurrection that gives meaning to our faith," said the Rev. Justin Ferguson, parochial vicar of the historic church on Poplar Street in downtown Macon.
"If we want to learn to love as we have been called by God, all we have to do is study the cross."
Wearing vestments lined with gold, Ferguson taught parishioners a greeting used by early Christians.
"He is risen, alleluia, alleluia," Ferguson said to their reply: "He is risen indeed, alleluia, alleluia."
Across town at High Point Church on Hollis Road, Pastor Bill Baker greeted his congregation from inside the baptismal pool with the same salutation at their 11 a.m. service
"He is risen," Baker said while wearing dark waders strapped over his crisp cream-colored shirt and black suit pants. His tie bore the words of John 3:16 etched faintly in various font styles.
"He is risen, indeed," the people answered as a man and woman waited to be baptized in the heated water.
Baker said the death and resurrection of Christ is mirrored in the ancient ritual that Jesus took part in about 2,000 years earlier before beginning his ministry.
"His old life has died and he is being resurrected into new life with Jesus," Baker said before guiding the man under the water.
At Pine Hill United Methodist Church in Dublin, Kathy Clark was one of three speakers to deliver an Easter message.
Clark used "resurrection eggs" with symbolic items such as bread, a crown of thorn, nails and a stone to illustrate the Easter story.
"It wasn’t the nails that held Jesus on that cross," she said. "It was his love for you and me."
Her husband, Neal Clark, spoke of the resurrected Christ who appeared to his disciplines and sent them out to spread the Gospel.
"We need that same burning desire to go into this cruel world today," he said.
The third speaker, Brian Bazemore, discussed the importance of Christians to exemplify God’s love and grace.
"God expects us to be kind and considerate, even when someone has been unkind to us."
At First Baptist Church in Macon, members and visitors who entered for 11 a.m. worship found a large cross on one side, rows of Easter lilies in front of the lecturn and a hanging banner bearing the words: "He is not here, He is risen."
The congregation said the traditional Easter hymn, "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," which says in part, "Lives again our glorious king, Alleluia! Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! Dying once he all doth save, Alleluia! Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia."
In his invocation, the Rev. Jody Long prayed in part: "O God of Easter morn and all life eternal, we gather in celebration and hope this day. For in the resurrection of your son Jesus, death no longer holds the final word. Our hope, our faith, is in the power of your everlasting love and grace. In this hour, be present as you were on that first Easter morning. Remove the stones from our lives that keep us separated from you."
In his sermon, titled "A Robust Easter Faith," the Rev. Bob Setzer Jr. emphasized the importance of the empty tomb in the Easter story. "The empty tomb does matter," he told the congregation. "It mattered to Mary Magdelene, to John and Peter, to Thomas and Paul, and it matters to me."
The tomb was empty because Jesus "left it and was gloriously transformed into God’s newly minted creation," he said. "It’s a sign of God’s power to restore a broken world."