The U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Thomas L. Solhjem, deliver the Easter message.
He is risen
As the sun rose, a familiar sound echoed across the rolling hills of Arlington National Cemetery. The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” bugler performed the church call, a long-held Easter sunrise tradition.
In the past, up to 2,000 people traveled from across the National Capital Region to attend the annual service. If the morning was chilly like Sunday, they huddled together in blankets on the marble benches of the cemetery’s amphitheater, their voices united singing along to the music.
This year’s Easter Sunrise Service, hosted by Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, was vastly different.
In a time of social distancing, thousands gathered together in front of their screens at home. The service was open to the public only through livestream on the JBM-HH Facebook page. At the time of publication, more than 150,000 viewers have tuned in to watch the service.
Viewers commented from across the across the nation and the world, including those from Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. While many thanked the band and chaplains for their service, some commented that the opportunity to view livestream was personal.
One viewer wrote, “My husband is (laid to rest) in Section 60. Thank you for the opportunity to spend sunrise with him.”
“We attend in person every year, and are appreciative of your efforts to bring the service to us since we cannot be there,” wrote another.
The decision to stream live was made in keeping with the mission to protect the force, preserve readiness and mitigate the risk of transmission of illness among personnel. Given the closure of the cemetery due to the COVID-19 threat and the fact that the main amphitheater is undergoing renovations, the service was held at the Tanner Amphitheater, the cemetery’s historic structure built in 1873.
Fewer than 10 individuals were present onsite. Chaplain (Col.) Michael T. Shellman, the senior Army chaplain at ANC began the service with a call to worship. The U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains (Maj. Gen.) Thomas L. Solhjem delivered the Easter message. Including the bugler, three members of the Army Band performed.
Although there was no physical crowd before him, the first words Solhjem spoke were an acknowledgement of the people at home watching.
“(I’m here) to bring you a message of good news, of encouragement in these troubling times,” he said. “This is the 79th year that we have met here in this place. If there was ever a season in our lifetime of social and physical distancing that we needed to stay connected spiritually together and socially, it is certainly today. We are experiencing extraordinary and uncertain times in this global pandemic.
“What started with one is now spread across the world. A virus of fear that has brought death. And yet, while it has done so it has united and connected us as a nation and as a global community. Although we live together in this time of uncertainty, we stand together in the faith, hope and promise of the sure resurrection for those who believe.”
Solhjem recognized and thanked the nation’s leaders, government agencies, military, medical and first responders and countless number of essential personnel working behind the scenes to care for the needs of citizens at home and abroad.
He said attending the attending the livestream was a choice, a choice to hold on to hope, to stay connected to each other and to pause and reflect on all that individuals have to be thankful for. Among things to be grateful for he said, among things the importance of faith, families, friends and the people God has put into a person’s life.
“What are you thankful for today?” he asked.
Echoing the earlier words of Shellman, Solhjem said the best is yet to come. He encouraged the audience to reflect on the new possibilities of expectation and promise for the world.
“Consider the backdrop of God’s strategic plan to save mankind,” he said. “The pandemic of sin born in the garden is alive in our DNA. We have all tested positive for the sin virus. The events of Holy Week were not happenstance, they were planned from the very foundations of the world, and orchestrated on our behalf, it is God’s unfolding of his sovereign plan and that we who believe are the recipients of his divine grace and cure.”
Explaining, he quoted the Scripture John 3:16; “For God so loved this world that he gave his only begotten son. He who believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
The service is available to view online at https://www.facebook.com/jbmhh/videos/1321665351366547/. Individuals do not need a Facebook account to watch the service.