Easter is arguably the most important holiday in the Christian faith, and though religious celebrations generally follow similar structures, the details and distinctions can vary widely from denomination to denomination and even church to church.
St. James the Apostle Orthodox Church
One of the earliest services held Easter Sunday took place at St. James the Apostle Orthodox Church in Westminster. Their services began at 11 p.m. Saturday night, and lasted until the early hours of Easter morning.
The Rev. Raphael Barberg said they begin the celebration so early because the resurrection of Christ is such a joyous occasion.
"It's traditional to gather in the waning hours, we are anticipating so greatly the Lord's return," Barberg said. "After the lamentations and grief, it is a time for joy."
The service began at 11 p.m. with a Ceremony of Light inside the darkened church. The congregation sang the canon, a structured orthodox hymn that details Christ's victory over sin and his sacrificial death. After the hymn, the priest emerged with the Paschal candle, lit a candle held by each of the worshippers, and led them outside for a procession.
The congregation marched around the outside of the church and returned to the front door. Upon their return, they stood outside the doors and read the Gospel about the women who discovered the empty tomb of Christ. The doors were opened to reveal a now brightly lit church decorated with basil leaves and rose petals. The altar boys changed the coverings on the altar from purple to white, which Barberg said represents the change from the solemnity of death to the celebration of new life. The service was followed by a large feast breaking the Lenten fast.
CrossLife Bible Church
Following the Orthodox midnight service, many churches, including Westminster's CrossLife Bible Church, offer a sunrise service. The Rev. Quintin Merson, of CrossLife, said the congregation wishes to live the story as much as is possible at their service.
"When the ladies went to the tomb, they went early in the morning, so that's why we go out at sunrise," Merson said. "There's a connection to standing outside in the elements. It's about putting yourself into the story, and that's what I do as a pastor, put the congregation in the Bible, so they can apply the story to themselves."
The sunrise service is set to begin inside the CrossLife Bible Church at 6:30 a.m. There, the congregation reads the story of Easter. When Christ's empty tomb is discovered, they leave the church to watch the sun rise and finish the tale.
At 10:30 a.m., a second service is held, this time featuring an Easter Cantata, a musical tribute to the holiday. Merson said the Cantata provides a musical telling of the story of the resurrection and another way to connect the congregation with the story of Christ.
"Music is a very powerful tool that reaches down to the heart and soul. It stirs the emotion," Merson said. "It's a message of love. Our world is filled with love songs, that's what our cantata mirrors."
Though many other churches hold their Easter Cantatas earlier in Holy Week, Merson said he wanted to tie together the themes of Christ as savior through song and sermon.
Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists
Easter celebrations aren't solely under the purview of Christian churches. The Rev. Bruce Marshall, minister at Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists in Finksburg, said because the congregation supports a diversity of beliefs, it is important to develop an Easter Sunday sermon that speaks to Christian and non-Christian believers. Marshall said the church would discuss Easter in terms of the renewal of life.
"A lot of what we consider to be Easter is built on much older observances," Marshall said. "I often find that coming out of winter, people are facing a certain weariness, but there is a message built into Easter and built into spring that life renews itself. There's a renewing force that affects us all."
Marshall said common Easter traditions such as Easter lilies, bunnies and colored eggs all predate the Christian celebration of the holiday.
Following the service, the church has planned a twist on the common Easter egg hunt - a canned-food hunt, where children search for donated canned food among the churchyard.
"After the hunt, we donate the food to Carroll County Food Sunday," Marshall said. "It's a good way to remind them that Easter can be a time of service."
Carroll County Detention Center
Easter services can also be found outside of the church. For Christians who can't make it to religious services, Easter has to come to them.
The Rev. Robert Kimmel, chaplain with the Carroll County Detention Center, said preparation for Easter at the jail begins a month ahead of the holiday.
"In our men's Bible study, we do a series leading up to Easter. We take that last week in the life of Christ and hit on the important events like the teachings, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday," Kimmel said.
Every week, different churches alternate hosting religious services on Sundays. On Easter Sunday, pastors from Hilltop Assembly of God, in Westminster, direct the services at the center. Kimmel said these kinds of services are essential for all people, particularly those who have lost their way.
"There are some people that come who are just finding their faith, and there's others who have been raised in the church and have strayed," Kimmel said. "I believe there's no hopeless people, there are just people who haven't looked in the right place for hope."