By Jennifer Mauro | Associate Editor
One by one they came, silhouetted against a dark blue sky as the faithful processed up wooden walkways and spilled out onto the beach below to celebrate the Resurrection of their Lord.
As the sky began to lighten to hues of soft blues and pinks, the early morning light revealed more than 1,500 faithful gathered for St. Francis of Assisi Parish’s annual Easter sunrise Mass on the beach April 16 in Beach Haven.
Photo Gallery: Easter sunrise Mass on the beach
Father James Scullion, pastor of the Long Beach Island parish, likened the faithful to the first arrivals at Jesus’ tomb.
“We were just like the women coming to the tomb in darkness and shade,” he said in his homily, pausing so that the only sound heard was the ocean.
“As we hear the waves coming in and out, it reminds us that God is always here with us – day in and day out,” he said. “Even though our own lives may ebb and flow, God is always there.
“As we celebrate the Resurrection, the most important thing for us to know about Jesus is what Pope Francis has emphasized again and again: that Jesus is the face of the father’s mercy.”
The darkness then gave way to dawn, and just as he had earlier in the Mass – saying after the First Reading, “For our responsorial psalm, let’s just silently listen to the waves,” – Father Scullion encouraged tranquility through nature. After the Sign of Peace, everyone paused to watch the sun rise in the sky and be still in the Lord.
“Open your eyes to the needs of your brothers and sisters,” Father Scullion said during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
At the conclusion of Mass, many of the faithful wandered down to the shoreline to collect shells, children wiggled their toes in the sand and families posed for photos along the ever-brightening horizon on the unseasonably warm April morning.
Suzanne Maxx drove from her residence in Manhattan to spend the Triduum with the parish community in its Brant Beach church.
“Easter is a celebration of the Living Christ and bringing Christ here as it is in heaven, and Beach Haven is the closest to me to bringing Earth as it is in heaven,” she said.
Maxx grew up spending summers on Long Beach Island. She said that when she was young, she used to consider the yearlong residents fortunate.
“Now, I’m with the lucky people who live here all year long,” she said. “They are the Church, and [together] we are the body of Christ.”
Maxx, who spends much of the year traveling the globe for work, looked up at the sunlight streaming between the clouds as she explained that this was the first time she had attended the parish’s Easter Mass on the beach, an experience she called enlightening.
“It was beautiful,” she said, “and I’ve been to Masses all over the world.”