It was a sunrise service and the website said the gates opened at 3:30. AM. Now, I love Easter, and I love my faith and I take it very seriously. But there is no way I am going to rush the gates of church at 3:30 am.
Here's what LA looked like as we drove to the Bowl at 5am. Notice anything weird about these LA streets? NO OTHER CARS.
You know what the Hollywood Bowl is right? Originally built in 1922, it's the largest natural amphitheatre in the US and one of LA's most recognizable sights. Remember the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Long Haired Hare"... the one where he gets into a fight with an opera singer. Bugs pretends to be the conductor and makes the singer hold a high note for so long that the amphitheatre ultimately collapses around them. The amphitheatre in the cartoon...that's the Hollywood Bowl.
Here's what the Bowl looks like at 5:30am at the start of the service.
Over 250 choir members from churchs around LA participated in the service. These kids were part of the International Peace Choir.
These two little girls, Janna and Danielle, had amazing voices for a 6 and a 9 year old. But I have to confess that I found it slightly disturbing to hear a 6 year old sing, in an adult's alto, "Does He still feel the nails, every time I fail." What was wrong with Jesus Loves Me?
Slowly the sky is starting to lighten.
In addition to the amazing choirs, there were 4 ministers who took part in the service, including Father Pedro Conreras from Colombia who was listed in the program as "an old Catholic Church Priest."
Also featured in the service was Tippi Hedren (famous Alfred Hitchcock actress, animal activist, mom to Melanie Griffith) who read a poem and opera singer Brenda Jackson who knocked the roof off with a version of The Lord's Prayer. AMAZING.
The most exciting part for us--at least production wise-- was the Living Cross. Here's what the website says about the Historic Living Cross :
Introduced in 1922, the Easter Sunrise Youth Chorus is the oldest tradition of the Easter Service. The children, seated in a Latin Cross formation, are attired in black robes. They rise at a signal from their Conductor, and in a dramatic, precise motion drop their outer capes, standing revealed in snow-white vestments as a massive “Living Cross,” singing “Christ the Lord is Risen today.”
Today it includes children from third generation Easter Service families. A Fund Drive is now under way to raise money to rebuild the large, permanent cross structure on which the Youth Chorus sits, and participates as a living symbol of the Resurrection. During the five years that the Easter Service had to be moved from the Hollywood Bowl due to major reconstruction and improvements, the large metal and wooden structure fell victim to the outdoor elements and for the children’s safety, had to be destroyed.
Check out that picture. Now THAT is a cross. But of course, they had to destroy it, for the children's safety you know. Here's what the Living Cross looked like this year:
Ok, so it's not as impressive as in yonder years, but it was still mighty dramatic. Especially for us first-timers. When they ripped off their black robes, The Esq and I both gasped. It was a very well timed movement.
All the choirs joined together for a gorgeous version of "Hallelujah" from Handel's Messiah... which I've always thought of as a Christmas song but I loved it for Easter. Of course I love The Messiah so much that I will gladly listen to 250 trained professionals sing it any day of the year. It was really beautiful.
The part of the service that got me all choked up was when the West LA Children's Choir presented MLK Jr's "I have a Dream" speech in song. At various points individual children would say lines from the speech. Hearing a 10 yr old say, "in every village, in every hamlet"... it just got to me.
At the end of the service they released the White Birds of Peace. Click onto the picture to see the doves better. (I'm sad Tippi Hedron didn't help with this portion of the service...seems like a wasted opportunity).
The doves flew around and around over the Bowl as the congregation sang "Holy, Holy, Holy."
By now, the sun was up and with a final benediction from the "old Catholic Priest" the service was over. That's The Esq in the knitted hat.
I know it sounds like I'm making fun of the service but I swear I'm not. It was really perfect. Yes, it was very "Hollywood" in the fact that everyone involved in the service was a professional at what they did. Even the ministers have all have their own Church Talk TV shows. But it was small town in the fact that everyone freely gave their time and talent in order to put on this service. This service that means so much to the community it's been going for 88 years.
The crowd was amazingly diverse and everyone was genuinely happy to be there. And even though it was cold before the sun came up, there were still all these little girls, prancing around, decked out in their Easter finest. We spoke to everyone sitting around us and when the Peace was Passed you really felt it.
Easter is about joining together to celebrate a new beginning. And I can't think of a more joyful place to be than the Hollywood Bowl this past Sunday.
And the people said Amen.