The Ministerial Association in Sedalia sponsors special services during Lent: Every Wednesday morning during Lent, at 7 a.m., one of the churches hosts a breakfast and short devotional. A layperson from that church presents the devotional, and the service concludes in time for everybody to get to work.
This past Wednesday was Broadway’s turn, and Pastor Rob asked me to speak. First, like Moses, I said, “No!” I don’t do early mornings very well, which I’ve always regarded as a personal failing, although it seems unnatural to awaken to dark skies. When I do, my stomach rolls and churns until about 10, when things seem more normal.
Then, of course, after telling my pastor “no,” guilt set in, and I admitted that I used to get up early all the time. I had 8 a.m. classes in college until I figured out that I didn’t have to, and even before that, my years in high school required rising early because we had marching band practice every morning at 7. I was also “up and at ‘em” on those days I participated in music and speech contests. Rarely was anything held in Thayer; we had to travel to all our events. Most of the time, we had to trek to places such as Mtn. Grove, about an hour Thayer-side of Springfield. Sometimes we had to go to Rolla, and there’s no good way to get there.
Those trips meant either getting up at zero-dark-thirty to be on a bus about 6 a.m., or traveling the night before, getting involved in a foosball game at the Holiday Inn, and treating the other hapless guests to shouts of victory and defeat until 1 in the morning. And we had to be up ready to compete by 8!
As I was reliving those days, I remembered one other time when we had to be ready early. That was during Holy Week each year, when the Methodist church had services at 6:30 in the morning – except on Thursday, when we had breakfast at 6 before that morning’s service.
I began thinking about those days, and how I hated dragging myself out of bed. I remembered how, after the service was over each day, I wasn’t really tired. And when I was in high school, I played the organ or piano every day for those services.
But the best day was Easter Sunday, when the whole town turned out for what we called “Sunrise Service.”
The service began at 6 a.m., and it was held at the cemetery. The cemetery rises to a high point in town so that a person can overlook the town, the creek, the railroad tracks, and the high school in the distance. The service always took place where a large cross looms silently over the well-tended grounds. The madrigal – the best singers in the high school choir – provided a capella choral music as people arrived, and right after the service began. I remember most Easter mornings as being sunny, although I can’t believe it never rained. I can even now feel the stillness, hear the occasional sound of a train rumbling past far below or sounds of outdoors – birds, trees rustling in the breeze – and the smell of morning dew on new grass. It was as if our surroundings reflected the sobriety of the occasion, requiring reverence and introspection. I remember feeling that was as close to heaven as I was going to get here on Earth.
Memories of those early morning services exacerbated my pangs of guilt for saying “no.” And so I decided to tell exactly that story to the people who would listen early on Wednesday morning. I hope they felt the awe that I felt those many years ago, when I participated in something that sent me forward on my life’s path, though I didn’t know at the time that it was my path. And though early morning holds no allure for me, I can say this: It’s not for me. For Lent, I gave up a few minutes of sleep, remembering the words of a favorite hymn that Cat Stevens popularized in the 1970s, “Morning has broken, praise for the singing, praise for the morning.”
— Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.