Marco’s Easter sunrise service at the beach on Sunday was a little later and a little lighter than last year.

Easter this year fell late, on April 16, one day after U.S. residents “render unto Caesar” by filing their income taxes, although this year that deadline is extended until Tuesday. With the “season” traditionally ending after Easter, this is good for tourism and real estate. It also meant that unlike last year, with Easter in March, the service did not start in the pre-dawn dark.

The thousands of worshippers who made the mini-pilgrimage to the beach behind the J.W. Marriott had plenty of light to set out their blankets and beach chairs, as flutist Sandy Stein, accompanied by John Stein on keyboard, played a musical prelude. On a beautiful morning, slightly misty, they sat in silence, called out “He is risen indeed,” and greeted their neighbors on adjoining chairs and blankets.

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The crowd covered acres of beach, with those looking for a little more room setting up down by the water’s edge. Children including Logan and Delaney Bade, 5 and 3, visiting from New Jersey, played at dodging the gentle waves. A cool breeze blew off the gulf, rustling the white cloth draped over the rough wooden cross set up behind the stage.

Just offshore, a spectator fleet of nearly five dozen boats sat anchored or idled in the Gulf. They were the first to be picked out by the rays of the sun when it rose at 7:02, just as the service was beginning. Longtime sunrise service organizer Alan Sandlin greeted the attendees, a number he estimated at 8,000, a little “lighter” than last year’s record of 10,000, presumably due to the later date.

Clothing ran the gamut from bare feet and beach casual to the preachers’ dressy suits. Some children dozed in their parents’ laps, swathed in blankets. A few condo residents attended by simply stepping out onto their balconies.

Three pastors, Kirk Dreiser of Wesley United Methodist Church, FGCU campus minister Lucas Tanner, and Thomas McCulley of the New Life Community Church of God, took turns speaking to the multitude. Rev. Steve Schoof of Marco Presbyterian Church was listed in the program as delivering the main Easter message, but had to bow out for health reasons, so Tanner gave the sermon.

He focused on the Biblical story of Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Jesus, prefiguring his own resurrection. Accounts of the miracle also led to the decision by the authorities at the time to kill Jesus, said Tanner.

To achieve salvation and eternal life, everyone must accept Jesus’ rebirth, he said, proclaiming it as true.

“You know, the resurrection of Jesus Christ can be proven with as much certainty as any universally accepted and well-documented event in ancient history. He alone is able to redeem your suffering and give your story a happy ending.”

Tanner closed by urging his listeners to place their faith in Jesus. “Do not wait another minute. Tomorrow is promised to no one. You aren’t even guaranteed your next breath. Happy Easter to everyone! God bless you.”

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