Holy days arrive for the faithful as pandemic eases in US

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FILE - In this Sunday, March 28, 2021 file photo, altar server Samantha Holmes, of East Brookfield, Mass., center, carries a crucifix with palm leaves during a procession at the start of Palm Sunday Mass at Mary, Queen of the Rosary Parish in Spencer, Mass. For Christians across the United States, Easter services on Sunday will reflect an extra measure of joy as the nation experiences rising optimism after a year of pandemic. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

For Christians across the United States, Easter services on Sunday will reflect an extra measure of joy as the nation experiences rising optimism after a year of pandemic. Even if still observing restrictions, many churches may draw the largest numbers of in-person worshippers in months.

It’s a season of major holy days for other faiths as well, occurring in a brighter mood than a year ago. Jews are observing Passover this week, and Muslims will enter the holy month of Ramadan in about two weeks.

In Houston, the Rev. Meredith Mills is eagerly anticipating a return to in-person worship Sunday in the sanctuary of Westminster United Methodist Church. Except for a few Christmastime services that drew a handful of people, the church has been worshipping on its front lawn since October.

“Many of our people are two weeks past their second shot of vaccine, so the comfort level is a lot higher now,” said Mills, who had her own bout of COVID-19 in January. “It almost feels like we’ve been in Lent for a year, and we are ready for Easter.”

Mills recently made a video of herself walking through the empty sanctuary and reflecting on a year of realization that God is everywhere — in people's homes and “even over Zoom” — but sacred spaces remain vital.

“So this space is about to reopen,” she said. “On Easter Sunday we are going to be masked and distanced ... but we’re going to gather and we’re going to sing, ‘Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia, Alleluia.’ We’re going to let the ‘Alleluia’ ring off of these walls.”

At St. Barnabas Lutheran Church in the Chicago suburb of Cary, attendance inside will be limited to 50, but there also will be an outdoor service.

The Rev. Sarah Wilson said that during the past year, the congregation has endured “fear, exhaustion, change, confusion, irritation, disappointment, doubt.”