The day's first light tinted the dark sky and chased away the full moon Sunday as worshipers picked their way across the hillside at Beachmont Christian Camp in Kingsville.
Frost-covered grass crunched underfoot as families and couples bundled in ski jackets and blankets arrived, some clutching cups of coffee. Most held a copy of the Easter sunrise service program.
"Over the years, it's snowed, it's rained and it's been a little colder than this, but they keep coming," said Paul Twining, the director of Beachmont Christian Ministries.
Several hundred people filled folding chairs, sat on rocks or stood for the 45-minute, nondenominational service conducted by Twining; Dave Moyer, director of the Maryland Bible Society; and Dan Dubell, president of International Care Inc., which works with orphanages.
The scene was repeated at dawn across Maryland on Sunday, from the boardwalk at Ocean City to the Tolchester Beach Bandstand in St. Michaels, and from Joe Cannon Stadium in Hanover to Tydings Park in Havre de Grace.
In Washington, thousands of faithful gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall to worship and watch the sun rise over the Capitol.
Beachmont has held an outdoor Easter service since 1975, when the camp was little more than a rolling pasture. Since then, volunteers and donors have sculpted the land to create ball fields and playgrounds. A pond fills the base of a natural amphitheater, the setting for the Easter service.
As the sky brightened, a delicate mist danced over the water's glassy surface and birds began to sing.
"It's a peaceful place. You feel the Lord's presence here," said Betty Baker of Hamilton, who has been participating in the Easter sunrise service since it began.
At the water's edge, a small choir sang. On the opposite shore, trumpeter Charlie Phillips pierced the air with a call to worship.
This year, members of the congregation acted out the story of Abraham and Isaac, in which God commands Abraham to sacrifice his only son as a test of faith. In the end, an angel intervenes and a ram entangled in a bush is sacrificed instead.
Two thousand years later, Twining said, a different father sacrificed his only son.
"This time, there is no ram in the thicket. This time, the son will be sacrificed," he said. "As the lamb of God, Jesus took away the sins of the world."
Two men climbed the hillside on the far shore toward two large crosses. One carried a cross, but struggled with it and fell. His companion picked it up to finish the ascent. Together they planted the cross between the other two.
At that, the sun burst above the hill.
Hundreds of voices sang, "Christ the Lord is risen today."
"He is risen," Twining said.
"He is risen indeed," replied the congregation.
After the service, the worshipers gathered in the camp pavilion for hot chocolate and doughnuts. Many said they were on their way to another, more traditional service.
"It starts Easter in the most dramatic way possible," said Phillips, who has been coming to the sunrise service since 1976. "There's a spirit about the place that's contagious. It's just awesome."