The song began at sunrise and swelled up through the day, a chorus of Christian voices in celebration of Easter. The worshipers gathered in cathedrals, in open fields, in churches hardly big enough to hold their congregations.
"The Easter parade," said the Rev. Harvey Lewis, speaking softly. "That great march going to Heaven."
The members of the Star of Bethlehem Church of God in Christ sat before him, nodding, fanning themselves gently, holding Bibles. "Praise, God," someone said.
The church is on 11th and V Streets NW, and is small inside, with yellow glass in the windows. By noon the pews were filled and the young men rose to stand in back.
There were wonderful hats: clouds of pink bows, straw with yellow flowers, bright green turbans. The children wore lacy dresses and small suits.
"If the Resurrection is not true, your faith is in vain, and I know that's not true," said Mr. Lewis. "If the Resurrection is not real, the gospel is hopeless, and I know that's not true, because this gospel is power . . . power unto salvation . . . power to deliver a man."
He stopped, leaned his ear toward them: were they listening? "Amen," someone cried.
Lewis spoke loudly now, urgently "God has written his story in the sky, so that the heavens declare the glory of God." A stirring in the pews, a clapping of hands, a palm raised toward the pulpit. Another voice, fervent: "Yes, sir."
"I've been born on the inside," Mr. Lewis said, his arms outstretched. "I've been changed from the inside and it's because of the Resurrection." He clasped his hands. "Jesus," he said, and his voice became music, the word sliding gently, a song, "Jeeeesus."
The congregation sang it back and Lewis shook his shoulders, eyes closed, smiling "I'm going to have to do that again," he said. "Jeeesus. It was all music now and the words rose and fell in their rhythms, a chant, a celebration: ". . . the Resurrection is the monument to the territory of death . . . it gives us the assurance that He is our owner and He's coming back to get us . . are you ready to meet your loved ones in the sky. . . sweet Jesus, sweet Jesus, sweeeet Jesus is coming to crack the sky . . ."
They lifted hands and cried out with him and answered the call in his voice. "The Lord," he said. "The Lord," they said. "I said, the Lord," he said. "The Lord," they said. And he stopped, smiled, bowed his head, almost whispered. "I have the assurance that I'm ready to meet the Lord when he comes," said Mr. Lewis, his voice husky. "How about you?"
When it was over he blessed the congregation. "The love of Christ and the grace of God and the Holy Spirit be with you all, until we meet again." They answered in chorus, "Aaaamen." And they clasped hands briefly and then filed down the aisles toward the sunshine outside.
There were others who met the day outside, at dawn.
"The rising sun is the symbol of the risen son of righteousness, and it scatters the frost on the grass like His Resurrection scatters the gloom of Good Friday," said the Rev. Barry L. Ralph, pastor of Reston's Christ the Servant Lutheran Church, speaking to the 500 worshipers gathered yesterday morning in the stadium of George Marshall High School in Fairfax County.
It is a yearly ceremony, usually held at Wolf Trap Farm Park but moved this year because of repairs at the Wolf Trap pavilion. "This is only a fraction of what we usually see at Wolf Trap," observed the Rev. David Caldwell, pastor of Vienna's Antioch Christian Church. The Fairfax Division of the Council of Churches sponsors the service.
Ministers from northern Virginia churches conseled generosity, gratitude, reverence. The worshipers listened, and joined hands. They wore ski parkas and knitted caps to ward off the chill. Two trombone and two trumpet players stood on the frost-covered grass, and their fanfares saluted the Easter sunrise.