Christians around the world celebrated an Easter Sunday upended by the coronavirus without the usual crowded church Masses and large family gatherings. Instead, they turned to the internet, television and radio from home to follow services that noted the grave impact of the pandemic. Some found novel ways to mark the holy day. Others still assembled in groups, but took precautions to try to avoid infection.

The virus forced a change in Easter traditions that had even endured wars.

Christians in the U.S. contended with a patchwork of limits on how and where they could gather to mark Jesus' resurrection. People living in Illinois were urged in the days before Easter not to congregate in person. On Sunday, Gov. JB Pritzker thanked those who stayed at home.

"I know how hard it is to break from traditional celebrations of togetherness, but I believe passionately that adapting our expressions of faith in these times is one of the most faithful acts of all," he said at his daily news briefing.

In Rockford, the Rev. Rebecca White Newgren of SecondFirst Church was joined in a flower-decorated sanctuary by her husband, Andy, and church musicians in an empty-pew online Easter morning service.

"The meaning of Easter is atonement," she said. "Jesus' death and resurrection made a way for us to be at one with God. For all that we have done and left undone to be forgiven. For all the ways we have denied Jesus to be set aside. For all in us who feel a little or a lot of shame. It just doesn't matter to God who created us and loves us and calls us by name.

She added, "And watch out. When we are one with God, the world changes. Positive stories explode all around us and the signs of spring point us toward the consistent and daily work of the Holy Spirit."

Many states exempted houses of worship from orders curbing communal meetings to help stop the coronavirus from spreading. A few pastors said they would stay open to visitors despite pandemic-fighting guidelines.

But no matter how divergent the celebrations, the message from church leaders around the world remained consistent: prayers for the sick and dead and reassurances of God's presence. Here's a sample of Easter events from the U.S. and abroad:

New York

Parishioners from churches across New York City sang "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" from their balconies and windows as part of an initiative organized online.

"My husband and I went out on the balcony and we belted it out as loud as we could," said Kathy Keller, of Reedemer Presbyterian Church, who helped launch the 'Easter2020' singing event.

Keller said people from across the U.S. sent her messages telling her they had joined the event, including a woman in Denver, Colorado who sang while snow fell outside her window.

"Even if you didn't hear everyone, God heard everyone," Keller said.

— Luis Andres Henao, The Associated Press


In the central German city of Hildesheim, around 400 people participated in a drive-in Catholic Mass for Easter Sunday. People were allowed to take part if they stayed in their cars with the doors and windows closed, listening to the sermon over the radio.

Relevant Church in the U.S. state of South Carolina also held a drive-in service, but took the additional step of changing it to Saturday because of an expected storm. Gloved volunteers carefully distributed prepackaged communion packets to families who drove into the YMCA parking lot. While Pastor Matt McGarity preached from the New Testament, cars sporadically honked in agreement. "We felt tonight like we would any Easter morning: joyful, expectant, hopeful," parishioner Kelly Hills said.

— Geir Moulson and Sarah Blake Morgan, The Associated Press

South Korea

At one of the biggest churches in South Korea, Seoul's Yoido Full Gospel Church, a small number of masked church followers attended the service broadcast online via the church's website. They were seated noticeably apart from each other to abide by social distancing rules. Choir members also wore masks when they sang hymns.

People also gathered at Happy Gospel Church in the U.S. state of Florida, though they were in the parking lot. Some sat in lawn chairs or on tailgates, but families stayed at least 6 feet apart - even when Bailey did an altar call.

At the Vatican, St. Peter's Square was empty of crowds and ringed by police barricades. Pope Francis celebrated Easter Mass inside the largely vacant basilica, calling for solidarity the world over to confront the "epochal challenge" posed by the coronavirus pandemic. He offered special prayers for the sick, the dead, the elderly, refugees and the poor and assured the faithful that God was still among them. "We are convinced that he has laid his hand upon us firmly reassuring us: Do not be afraid, 'I have risen and I am with you still!"

The message was echoed by David Uth, senior pastor at First Baptist Orlando in the U.S. state of Florida. Uth told worshippers tuning in to an online Easter service that a question that comes up as the coronavirus pandemic ravages lives is: Where is God?

"He's the same place He was the day His son died to give us salvation from our sin," he said. "He's the same place He was the day His son Jesus walked out of the grave. He is with us."

— Emily Wagster Pettus, The Associated Press

Rockford Register Star writers Chris Green and Kevin Haas contributed to this report.

Associated Press writers Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta and Elana Schor in New York contributed to this report.