ST. LOUIS — For the first time since the start of the pandemic, people celebrated Easter and Passover in person without COVID restrictions.

In song and prayer, Christians celebrate the start of Easter weekend with Good Friday services.

“This is certainly a day of sadness,” said one worshipper. “Good Friday, but sad!”

With the full choir back, no one was sad that the pews were filled shoulder to shoulder once again.

“It’s just one of those things that, maybe three years ago, I had taken for granted. That was normal, but we haven’t been normal in a while,” said Father Dan White S.J. of St. Francis Xavier College Church.

Many are still reeling from the millions of COVID victims worldwide.

“That sense of loss and death and suffering is transformed, but it’s never absent,” said Father White. “Joy doesn’t mean that everything is fine, but rather joy is the triumph of God’s love.”

At the Chesterfield Mall, themes of overcoming adversity continue for Passover at the Chesterfield Chabad’s Seder dinner.

“It’s great to be with my fellow people, and it’s very warm and welcoming,” said Seder guest Brandon Benchluch.

The Seder begins at sundown. Whether it’s the food and wine reminding guests of the importance of the seven plagues that helped the Jewish people escape slavery or with matzah made in Ukraine, this year is extra special.

“The first year of exodus, everyone was actually quarantined or celebrated in their house. So that was more like the last two years, but from then until now, we celebrate as a community together,” said Chabad Rabbi Y’israel Benjaminson.

“Seeing everyone in person and being together, that sense of community, that’s what the holiday is all about,” said Seder guest Mitch Sommers.

Whether at temple or at home, the message remains.

“We hope you enjoy your matzah at home, and you should have a true exodus from all your limitations,” said Rabbi Benjaminson.

If you go to any Chabad services, you can get your very own Ukrainian matzah too.