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Easter sunrise service renews spirit and faith

    Attendees recited Psalm 118 during the 108th annual Easter Sunrise Service in 2009 at the National Memo­rial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
    star-advertiser The crowd filled the stairs at the 1974 service.

As the first beams of sunlight peek over the edge of Punchbowl crater tomorrow, a thousand people are expected to join with Christians around the world on Easter Sunday in rejoicing that Jesus Christ has risen.

Although it is believed the resurrection — the pre-eminent symbol of light triumphing over spiritual darkness — occurred thousands of years ago, its redemptive power is ongoing because "it makes what is sorrowful, good; what is lost, found; and what was dead, alive," says the Rev. Diane Martinson-Koyama.

Martinson-Koyama is the keynote speaker at tomorrow’s 110th annual Easter Sunrise Service at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at 6:15 a.m. Her message is titled "With the Sun Rises Hope."

"Easter is the heart and soul of Christianity for me," she said. "It’s being able to face life with hope, with that vision that new life is possible even when it seems it’s the most dead-end street, the most sorrowful and depressing situation.

"It’s an audacious claim: that darkness does not rule, and death doesn’t have the last word. God coming in human form and taking on the suffering and sorrows of being human, taking their sins to the cross and rising from the dead. It’s something that rocked the world when it happened 2,000 years ago … something not even imaginable," said Martinson-Koyama, a chaplain and teacher at ‘Iolani School.

The Rev. Samuel Domingo, pastor of Keolu­mana United Methodist Church, has been organizing the Punchbowl service since the early 1990s on behalf of the Hawaii Council of Churches. The Council of Churches no longer formally exists, except for its Fund Committee, which sponsors the sunrise service with several Christian coalitions, Domingo said.

The service was once "the only game in town," long before other churches held sunrise events, Domingo said. The tradition began, he said, when a Sunday school teacher took her class to observe the sunrise on Easter at the extinct volcanic Puowaina Crater, popularly known as Punchbowl because of its shape.

("Puowaina" means "consecrated hill" or "hill of sacrifice," the site of many secret alii or royal burials, and where lawbreakers were sacrificed. Construction of the veterans’ memo­rial cemetery began in 1948.)

The celebration is held at sunrise to coincide with the early morning hours of darkness in which Mary Magdalene and other female disciples went to Jesus’ tomb to prepare his body for proper burial. They were dismayed at finding the tomb empty. Catholics and other Christian denominations also hold a Saturday night prayer vigil, and a sunrise service became an extension of it, Domingo said.

Every Easter, Domingo experiences a personal renewal of spirit and appreciates "the deeper mysteries of what God’s love is all about," he said.

"We go through the motions sometimes, but our response should be in the transformation of our lives and walking in the footsteps of Jesus, building a peaceful society and world, instead of it being just a personal relationship with Jesus," he said.

Christians should remember that "God’s embrace is for all people, not just a particular group of folk," Domingo said. "Jesus broke out from stereotypes; he was not ‘better than thou.’ We should cast our eyes on others as precious creations and gifts from God."

Martinson-Koyama said humans often have difficulty grasping the resurrection and other concepts of the divine with their logical, finite minds, so they must take that leap of faith to trust God.

"There is a mystery that is not fully understandable. With the evolution of science, we’ve lost that reverence for mystery and that which is greater than ourselves. We should be open to the touch of the divine in our everyday lives," she said.

Music will be provided by the Royal Hawaiian Band and the Bread of Life Samoan Church Choir. The offering will go the Wai­anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center’s Homeless Outreach Program.

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