As Reverend Leon's Revival sang "Amazing Grace," a peach-colored sun rose over a bank of clouds and slowly washed over 10,000 people gathered at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Sunday, welcoming the holiest day on the Christian calendar.
Some worshipers threw their hands in the air. Others rolled their video cameras. One man standing in row 69, near the very top, said simply, "Look at that."
The annual Easter Sunrise Service had returned to Red Rocks.
A year ago, renovations at the foothills amphitheater operated by the city and county of Denver forced a temporary move to Fiddler's Green in Greenwood Village.
"This is awe-inspiring," said Nancy Ferry of Wheat Ridge, who supplied about 10 friends with hot cocoa on the chilly morning. "When I'm up here, I forget about everything else in the world."
"Anybody can go to a church," said 45-year-old Kim Donaldson of Golden, attending her first sunrise service. "I can go to my church. This starts at dawn. It feels fresh and new. This feels complete."
For Christians, Easter is a time of rebirth and renewal. Sunrise, service organizers point out, is a fitting time to gather as a community and commemorate the central belief of Christianity: that Jesus Christ rose from the dead after his crucifixion.
"God is doing this Easter what he has always been doing - giving order from chaos, light from darkness, life from death," the Rev. Susanne Smith of Bethany Lutheran Church in Englewood said in her sermon.
A prayer about midway through the service made it clear these are not ordinary times.
The prayer was dedicated to U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, homeless and scared Iraqis and to those for whom April 20 evokes memories of violence - a reference to the Columbine High School massacre, which took place four years ago Sunday.
The full house Sunday was encouraging for the Colorado Council of Churches, the coalition of predominantly mainline Protestant denominations that organizes the service.
The service, which costs more than $20,000 to stage, brought in only $5,000 last year when crowds were smaller than average because of the move to the temporary venue, said the Rev. Jim Ryan, executive director of the council of churches.
He hoped to raise more money than normal this year, the service's 56th, to offset that decline. Ten percent of the offering will go to homeless programs in metro Denver and Grand Junction, he said.
By Albert H. Lee