For Christians in the United States, the Sunday Easter service will reflect an extra level of joy as the nation becomes increasingly optimistic after a year of pandemic. Even if restrictions are still observed, many churches may have attracted the greatest number of personal worshipers in months.
It is a time of great holy days for other faiths as well, taking place in a better mood than a year ago. This week the Jews are celebrating the Passover, and the Muslims will enter the holy month of Ramadan in about two weeks.
In Houston, Rev. Meredith Mills eagerly awaits a return to Sunday personal worship at the Shrine of Westminster United Methodist Church. Aside from a few Christmas services that a handful of people attended, the Church has been praying on its lawn since October.
“Many of our employees are two weeks after their second vaccine shot, so comfort is much higher now,” said Mills, who had her own COVID-19 attack in January. “It almost feels like we’ve been on Lent for a year and we’re ready for Easter.”
Mills recently made a video of herself walking through the empty sanctuary pondering over a year of realizing that God is everywhere – in people’s homes and “even above Zoom” – but sacred spaces remain vital.
“So this room is about to reopen,” she said. “On Easter Sunday we will be masked and aloof … but we will gather and sing, ‘Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia, Alleluia. ‘We’re going to have the’ Alleluia ‘ring off these walls. “
Attendance is limited to 50 at St. Barnabas Lutheran Church in Cary, a suburb of Chicago, but outdoor services are also offered.
The Rev. Sarah Wilson said the church has endured “fear, exhaustion, change, confusion, irritation, disappointment, doubt” over the past year.
But “now that more of us are being vaccinated, we are also seeing hope,” she said via email. “Every time a parishioner tells me they got a shot, I’m so happy.”
Similarly, Rev. Bob Stec of Saint Ambrose Catholic Church in Brunswick, Ohio said his ward’s theme for this Easter celebration is “Alive in Christ.”
“All over the world we have all had a year of dying,” he said. “After a difficult and challenging year, we are ready to face a future full of hope.”
Stec’s Church will be open for personal worship, but for those who still have concerns about gathering inside, there will be a passage confession and communion, as well as a depiction of the Stations of the Cross visible from the parking lot.
Mary, the Queen of the Rosary Catholic Church in Spencer, Massachusetts, has a Sunday service for up to 200 worshipers – 40 percent capacity – and an outdoor service that can be heard on parishioners’ car radios.
“Everyone wants to be back … but some have chosen not to act out of caution,” said the pastor, Rev. William Schipper.
Rabbi Jonathan Perlman of the New Light Congregation in Pittsburgh said the Passover holiday had strong parallels with the pandemic, as “it was first celebrated in quarantine” after God ordered the Israelites in Egypt to shelter in their homes all night .
“Now we know that many of us have sought refuge in homes for a year. Travel was forbidden; Having a face-to-face meeting in large groups was against basic health principles, “Perlman said via email. “For me, as for my Israelite ancestors, the entire experience was something capable of transformation. … The vaccination felt like a gift from God. “
Perlman offered virtual and face-to-face services in a chapel in the Beth Shalom Synagogue. New Light was formerly worshiped in the Tree of Life Synagogue, where three members of the community were among eleven Jews killed by a rifleman in 2018.
Rabbi Motti Seligson of Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic Organization said that many US Jews were holding Passover seders in small groups due to the pandemic. There was an unexpectedly large online demand for Chabad.org Haggadah, a new doctrinal version of the sacred text for the beginning of Passover – designed for small seders with about 300,000 downloads instead of the expected 100,000, he said.
Ramadan, a time of fasting and worship, is usually focused on togetherness when Muslims gather for prayers and iftars or for dinner to break the daily fast. Last year the pandemic forced Muslims to reimagine some rituals and some will do so this Ramadan as well.
Salima Suswell, founder and executive director of the Philadelphia Ramadan & Eid Fund, said he was working with mosques to offer takeaway iftars three days a week. For the festival at the end of Ramadan, toys and decorations are distributed so that families can celebrate privately.
“We want families to understand that there is a way to take advantage of the holy month of Ramadan while safely maintaining social distance at home,” said Suswell.
It’s a long way from 2019 when the group hosted an iftar dinner at a museum and an end-of-Ramadan celebration in a park drew around 15,000 visitors, Suswell said.
At the Puget Sound Muslim Association in Redmond, Washington, worshipers can again gather to offer Ramadan’s taraweeh prayers after failing to do so in 2020.
“A lot of people are really excited,” said Sheikh Adam Jamal, Deputy Imam. “There are people, seniors, who have probably been doing taraweeh (in a mosque) every year since they were young. … you missed it for a year – that was just devastating. “
However, the capacity of the mosque, which is usually full of people standing shoulder to shoulder for prayers during Ramadan, is limited. People can also drop by to pick up packaged iftar meals.
“It will be different than before,” said Jamal, “but it will be closer than last year.”
In Spanish Fork, Utah, around 25,000 Hindus traditionally gather at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple to throw colored powder for the Holi celebration that marks the beginning of spring. This year the meeting has been postponed to the end of September in the hope that everyone can join safely rather than drastically reducing attendance.
“We want it at a time when everyone can come. … If things go on and everyone gets vaccinated, we should be fine for September, ”said festival coordinator Charu Das.
That said he loved the festival because it celebrates diversity: “It recognizes that we complement each other – different races, different nationalities, different genders. God creates in unlimited variety. “
Associate press writer Luis Andres Henao and AP video journalist Jessie Wardarski contributed to this report.