LAUREL HILL — Dashboard thermometers registered temperatures in the low 40s as nearly 50 residents arrived at Gene Clary Park for the Laurel Hill Ministerial Association’s annual Easter sunrise service.

"What a beautiful morning and a beautiful day to celebrate the Resurrection!" the Rev. Mike McVay, pastor of the Laurel Hill First Baptist Church, said during his welcome.

Following an opening prayer by the Rev. Mark Broadhead of Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church, the congregation raised their voices in the beloved 1874 Easter hymn, "Low in the Grave He Lay."

After he sang a powerful rendition of "Because He Lives," accompanying himself on keyboards, the Rev. Carlos Jones of Campton Baptist Church delivered an inspiring sermon, casting the congregation as the jury in an imaginative trial — "The case of divine love versus the world," he called it — with Jesus as the defendant.

The sermon vividly illustrated the charges Jesus, "a.k.a. The Son of God, because every defendant has to have a nickname," Jones said — had faced when hauled before Pontius Pilate shortly before his crucifixion.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is it a crime to love someone unconditionally?" Jones asked rhetorically.

Jones sent his congregation to a bountiful breakfast at First Baptist Church with a reminder of Easter’s assurance. "He’s alive!" he said of Jesus. "And where’s he alive at? In your heart!"