photo - The Sangre de Cristo mountain range (Spanish for Blood of Christ) made for an inspirational background for those attending an Easter service in Westcliffe, Colorado on Sunday, April 16, 2017. The First Baptist Church of Westcliffe lead the annual service. Last year it was cancelled because of deep snow, but this year most were in light jackets. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains include ten of Colorado's 14ers. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette
The Sangre de Cristo mountain range (Spanish for Blood of Christ) made for an inspirational background for those attending an Easter service in Westcliffe, Colorado on Sunday, April 16, 2017. The First Baptist Church of Westcliffe lead the annual service. Last year it was cancelled because of deep snow, but this year most were in light jackets. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains include ten of Colorado's 14ers. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette 

As the sun rose behind him, Matt Holtzman drew a parallel to the dawn and the resurrection of Jesus in his sermon during an early morning Easter Sunday service at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Colorado Springs.

"We celebrate the fact that just as surely as the sun is rising behind me, Jesus was raised from the dead," said Holtzman, the church's minister of contemporary worship and care. "He has risen."

Sleep-deprived and holding back yawns, about 200 people showed up at the 6 a.m. service on the lawn area behind the church to celebrate Christianity's holiest day of the year. Many wore sweaters, coats and beanies in the 40-degree chill of the windy morning.

One family, the Dyars, sat on the ground and wrapped themselves in blankets.

A Colorado Springs resident, Devin Dyar has been attending the church's sunrise service for about the past 20 years. Like past services, it wasn't easy for him and wife to get their three children - ages 8, 10 and 12 - to get up before sunrise.

What motived Dyar and his family to attend the church service?

"It's the foundation of what we believe in," he said, "so it's important to come out with the kids. Being a sunrise service makes it really fun."

But well before the service ended, the family had plans to take a nap before breakfast with grandparents. Dyar's oldest, Kaya, said even though she was tired after an early wakeup call, she was inspired by Jesus' story to attend the service.

"I always make paper crosses," she said, explaining her favorite Easter Sunday activities, "because Jesus died on the cross for us."

Before Holtzman's sermon, churchgoers were treated to live music and hymns. They sat on chairs and watched the sun gradually rise in front of them. It was cold, but many of them held cups of coffee and hot chocolate while sitting or standing closely with their loved ones.

Past Easter Sunday services featured snow and freezing temperatures, church members said.

Holtzman reminded the crowded that Jesus died for them before his resurrection.

"We celebrate the fact that over 2,000 years ago, Jesus was sent by his heavenly Father to live on Earth, breathing the very air you and I are breathing here today," he said, "and walking the very same ground you and I are walking."

Asked about the significance of the sunrise service, Holtzman first took a deep breath.

"I think it's cool that the sun comes up every day and there isn't a day it doesn't think about coming up," he said. "And that's Jesus for us. We think about God always being our risen king."

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