03/31/2013 08:00 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Easter Sunday At The Hollywood Bowl: An Old Los Angeles Tradition

Songs of praise and joy rose from the cavernous shell of the Hollywood Bowl on Easter Sunday, spilling into the crowds of thousands of faithful who had gathered at the famed outdoor amphitheatre to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sunshine peaked through gray clouds overhead, keeping back what was forecasted to be a possibly wet morning. Worshippers donned their best California casual wear: from light colored retro suits and skinny ties to fancy, wide brimmed hats, as well as bright pink, yellow and blue spring dresses that stood out against the deep green, rain nourished pine trees on the hills that surround the Hollywood Bowl.

No matter where they were from, Silver Lake or San Fernando, Eagle Rock or Bel Air, the thousands who flocked to the Bowl came to renew their faith in an ancient message that is at the cornerstone of Christianity: He is risen.

"This is the day when God suspended his own laws of mortality," the Rev. David McKechnie, interim senior pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church told the crowd. "This will be a transformational hour in your life."

The free, nondenominational Easter service at the Bowl has been a Los Angeles tradition since 1921 and has featured a children's choir, sermons by well known ministers, and the release of doves to symbolize peace and purity. In past years, the service was held at sunrise and attracted up to 17,000, although at one time in the 1940s, up to 30,000 people were in attendance, according to published reports.

But organizers who have tried to make the outdoor event an annual ritual have been tested again and again.

On some Easter mornings, there was rain and cold. There were renovations to the amphitheatre last year, and in the late 1990s. The service was canceled in 2004 and 2005 because of a $25-million construction project to replace the famous stage shell with a larger structure. In 2010, the service wasn't held because of the recession.

This year's event was brought back to the Bowl through a partnership with the Bel Air Presbyterian Church and Christian Assembly Church in Eagle Rock. The late morning service featured a 200-member choir, a professional orchestra band and pastor and best selling author, Francis Chan.

Chan energized the crowd with a sermon that reminded them that Jesus deserves more attention than just on Easter Sunday. After all, Chan said, he died and rose so that sins could be forgiven.

"Jesus never begged anyone to follow him," Chan said. "There were people who begged Jesus to follow him."

Worshippers from both churches and those visiting brought picnic baskets and Tupperware filled with fruit salads, cheeses, finger sandwiches and bottles of orange juice and said they felt blessed to see so many fellow Christians gathered together at an outdoor venue.

The Easter message, preached everywhere from hilltops and pulpits throughout Los Angeles and around the world on Sunday, hails the biblical story of Jesus Christ's resurrection three days after his crucifixion, which symbolizes life after death, eternity in heaven, and hope and renewal.

Barbara Bostock, a member of Bel Air Presbyterian, called the gathering in the middle of Hollywood a wonderful sight, especially since many in other states where she has lived perceive Los Angeles as a soulless wasteland.

"I'm a great believer and I think this is amazing," said Bostock of Santa Monica.

"I'm enjoying it because where I live, I know who all the Christians are, but it's nice to see so many others outside of that area," added Janice Biebel of Valencia.

Alexandria Parker, a member of Christian Assembly in Eagle Rock, said she liked the feeling of unity that her church and Bel Air Presbyterian created.

"This is the first time we're here and it's beautiful," the Pasadena resident said. "I'm feeling the love from so many here today."

"I like the atmosphere," added Julianna Zallo of Eagle Rock. "There's a community feeling here."

Michael Harrington, 26, and fiancee Raven Barnes, 27, also were newcomers to the Easter service at the Hollywood Bowl.

"It's encouraging to see so many Christians from all over all together," Harrington said. "L.A. is still God focused." ___



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