Sun filtered through pine trees, and geese honked on the sprawling lawn at Palm Mortuary-Eastern in the central Las Vegas Valley as hundreds of people gathered just after sunrise Sunday to celebrate Easter.
“We learn that there’s good news from the graveyard today,” said John Horton, who works at the mortuary helping families plan their memorials and speaking at services. “Good news that the tomb is empty. Good news that Jesus rose from the dead … Good news that we don’t need to fear death anymore.”
While the 34th annual Easter Sunrise Service featured messages from a priest and a pastor, mortuary general manager Glenn Abercrombie said the event was nondenominational.
“We feel that the community gives so much to us, and they entrust us with so much,” Abercrombie said. “… This is one way we can bring the community together and give them a time of celebration and hope.”
Abercrombie and his employees set out 1,500 white chairs for guests. Nearly all of them were filled by 6:45 a.m., and families with strollers and small children stood around the edge of the congregation.
Robynn Bell has attended the sunrise service for the past 10 years, she said. Her husband and their three sons — ages 1, 4 and 7 — wore coordinated blue suits Sunday. The boys wore patterned blue fedoras.
Bell said the sunrise is symbolic of Jesus’ resurrection in the Bible. She liked that the service was open to all and that it was outside. Her boys gasped and craned their necks when dozens of white doves were released near the end.
“I like the interconnectedness,” Bell said. “… I like what it represents … If you are religious, to me, if you believe in Easter, that’s one of the key principles of following Jesus, is to be accepting of everyone. Love was the one thing that he wanted everyone to remember. We’re more alike than we are different.”
After the ceremony, families filed out of the parking lot. Some walked among the headstones, carrying bouquets of flowers.
“We’re the stewards of all these people’s lives and treasured memories,” Abercrombie said. “… It’s not just a place for their body to be, it’s a place for (families) to come and celebrate and feel connected to their ancestors.”
Elizabeth Errett, 72, has attended the Easter service at the mortuary every year since 1993. She used to attend the service with her husband, who died in 2004.
“That’s probably why it’s so emotional,” she said, her voice caught in her throat as she spoke.
Errett clutched a small plant with delicate yellow flowers. She and her husband have gravesites at Palm, where they will be buried together after she dies.
“I love the sermons, the music and the release of the doves,” Errett said of the service. “… It’s just peaceful … I feel closer to him.”