They huddled together just before dawn, most wearing scarves and gloves, feet planted in the sand. As the sun crept into the sky, they were warmed both by a roaring bonfire and a sermon of hope.

The annual Sunrise Easter Service, a local tradition for decades, attracted about 150 people to Compo Beach to hear the sermon by Rev. John Twiname of Greens Farms Congregational Church. He spoke with the shoreline at his back, his words sometimes punctuated by the squawk of seagulls hunting for breakfast.

Clergy from United Methodist Church of Westport-Weston and Saugatuck Congregational Church -- Rev. Ed Horne and bridge minister Rev. Cynthia Robinson -- also participated, leading hymns and prayers. The service celebrated a renewal of life and provided a thoughtful start to Easter Sunday celebrations.

"Easter for Christians is our greatest day," Horne said. "It's the day when we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and all that it means in our lives. Easter's all about hope, that there are no dead ends, no closed doors. There's always the possibility of renewal and a better day. It reminds us that God has the ultimate power."

Robinson shared her thoughts on the day as well, suggesting that every day is a renewal, a new start. "This is something that happens every day," she said. "Every day that we wake up and take a breath is a renewal, an opportunity to give thanks. That's the power of the day, to be alive."

In a greater sense, Robinson added, "Easter's about vulnerability. The challenge is to find the strength to allow ourselves to be fully seen and see others as they are. When we are vulnerable, that's when life can enter in."

Twiname suffers from neuropathy and supported himself with a steel cane, but he was nonetheless cheerful, provided some historical background about the event and his own perspective.

"We've done this for decades," he said "It's truly a community thing. Easter is really the anchor of our faith. Resurrection is an experience that everyone has whether you believe in Jesus or not. Christ comes into us when times are tough. We all have losses -- relationships, physical health -- and how we handle them is an indication of how we will meet our ultimate death."

Pausing for a moment as the sun burst forth from behind clouds sitting on the horizon, Twiname concluded, "An Easter person is one who is open to the joy of the Resurrection spirit in all the little deaths of this life."

To the congregants beachside, Twiname exclaimed, "Christ has risen. Go and enjoy this wonderful day."

Mike Lauterborn is a freelance writer.