When the sun appears on the horizon this Easter morning, Christians will be out in force to see it. It has become a tradition to attend sunrise services on the day when the Lord’s resurrection is commemorated. Alongside the many Christians who go to the cemeteries, the mountainsides, the parks, and the beaches for the sunrise worship services will be many uncommitted people, roused from sleep by the call of tradition.

Traditions die hard. Most of Western Europe has a long weekend for Easter. Many businesses close on Thursday, not to reopen until the next Tuesday. The original idea was to allow workers time to attend a full schedule of religious services, starting with Maundy Thursday. Today the attendance at those services is pitifully small in most European churches, but the holiday is defended with great vigor.

Going out to watch the Easter dawn is not a bad tradition. Neither are the traditions of serving hot cross buns, hiding Easter eggs, or dressing up in new clothes, to go to church (or elsewhere). The problem with these and with many other traditions that Christians have developed in various cultures is that they no longer teach the truths they were intended to teach. These observances are, after all, little more than visual aids. Without accompanying verbal instruction they are not dependable teachers.

Sunrise services have continued to draw large crowds, perhaps because nature’s tribute to the resurrection is so striking a visual aid that the Biblical teaching comes easily to the preacher’s lips. People who hear the Gospel at no other public worship services do hear it on Easter morning. Could it be that once-a-year churchgoers attend on Easter because they expect the preacher to give them a word about eternity then, ...

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