At Old South Church, steps away from the Marathon finish line, dozens of runners tearfully accepted blessings and handmade blue-and-yellow scarves during Sunday’s Easter services. Hundreds of people made pilgrimages to Boylston Street to take photos, to revel in the brilliant day, or to face memories from last year. And thousands of marathoners ended the day on City Hall Plaza, sharing a feast of pasta, meatballs, and beer.
On the day before the first Boston Marathon since the bombings, Boston was awash with sunshine and determination, even as memories of last year cast an occasional shadow on the city’s festive spirit.
Easter coincided with the most emotional Boston Marathon eve in the 118-year history of the celebrated event, and the Christian story of Jesus’ resurrection mirrored a sense of resilience.
“Easter is God’s tender, sweet, intimate whisper: ‘Don’t be afraid’ . . . ” the Rev. Nancy S. Taylor, senior minister of Old South, said to the hundreds of people — many sporting 2013 and 2014 Boston Marathon jackets — who packed into Old South Church for the first of two Easter services that included blessings for those running on Monday.
As light streamed in through stained-glass windows, Taylor asked runners in this year’s Marathon to rise. They were greeted with a resounding applause.
“Strong and faithful God, we ask your blessing on these athletes who have come to race and compete,” she said. “Keep them safe from injury and harm . . . Reward them for their discipline and perseverance.”
The worshipers replied: “May you mount up with wings like eagles. May you run and not grow weary. May you walk and not faint.”
Tears streamed down the faces of many runners as congregants placed the blue-and-yellow scarves, knitted by church members and others from all over the world, around the necks of the athletes.
Kellyann Nicholson, a 49-year-old high school science teacher from Santa Cruz, Calif., said she had been a block away from the bombings last year. She cried through the Easter service, but her intention in running again this year was to send a message of defiance.
“We’re taking back our finish line, dagnabbit!” she said.
Standing at the corner of Exeter and Boylston streets wearing a scarf from the service, Mira Bedo, a 62-year-old from Florida who ran last year, said she was feeling very emotional. She said she was running again “for me, for everybody — closure.”
Her memories from last year remained painful.
“Still, in my head, I still hear all the screaming people. You don’t forget it,” she said.
All day, the area around the finish line was mobbed with hundreds of people. Many posed for joyful photos at the finish line. Others stood quietly at a nearby memorial for the three people killed in the Marathon bombings — Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu — and Sean Collier, the MIT police officer fatally shot days later, allegedly by the bombing suspects.
Governor Deval Patrick said Sunday morning that officials have had no intelligence suggesting any specific threats against Monday’s Marathon, but described elevated security while reassuring the public that the race will be “very safe.”
Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Patrick said “the intelligence folks often talk about so-called chatter in intelligence channels, and there has not been elevated chatter.
“We’re not taking that as a sign to sort of stand down,” the governor continued. “We’re very alert, we’re very prepared and we’re assuring people as much as we can that it will be a fun day and a safe one.”
Patrick cited enhanced security measures including a larger police presence, tactical units deployed along the route, and undercover officers. He described a recent daylong practice session where 450 people from various law enforcement agencies walked through different scenarios.
Asked to compare Marathon security to a World Series game at Fenway Park, Patrick called the Marathon “considerably more challenging.”
“The head of our emergency management team said he would take a stadium over a marathon route any day because there’s certain defined exits, it’s a confined space,” he said. “But we also don’t want to have kind of a race through a militarized zone. So it’s about striking a balance, and I think we have struck that balance.”
Indeed, the overall mood along the final stretch of the Marathon route on Boylston was upbeat.
“The experience here right now is very uplifting,” said Alex Simon, a 22-year-old from Buffalo, N.Y. Simon, who said he is running his first Boston Marathon on Monday, was walking away from the finish line, clear plastic bag of gear in hand.
Just after 4 p.m., a river of neon jackets flowed past the brick Old State House toward City Hall Plaza as runners and their guests gathered for the annual pre-race pasta dinner.
This year, runners said, the camaraderie was more important than the rigatoni at the carbohydrate-laden banquet.
Justin Heaton, 33, of Chicago, said he sat at a table with runners from California, Connecticut, and Washington. They talked about last year and other marathons they have run, he said, over pasta, meatballs, and salad. “I think it’s about getting together with people and that sort of camaraderie with runners,” he said, adding that it was nice to have a relaxing evening before Marathon Monday.
There was also free beer for the runners, including Samuel Adams’s special 26.2 batch in honor of the Marathon.
“Lots of tables, lots of food, free beer — can’t really ask for more,” said Cendrix Bouchard, 37, of Vancouver.
Bouchard said the police presence in the city had been obvious Sunday, but he hasn’t felt like he was constantly being watched.
“It’s been busy, but it’s been quiet all at once,” Bouchard said.
Many Bostonians said they would not hesitate to join the crowd as spectators Monday. Among them was 27-year-old Kamar Kershaw, who was sitting in a tree along the Esplanade, looking across the Charles River to Cambridge.
“Looking for closure because I was there last year,” he said, adding that he hoped for a time when the city could “get back to a normal Marathon Monday.”
Late Sunday, the cobblestone plaza next to Quincy Market was teeming with runners and camera-wielding tourists.
Beside a cart selling Boston-themed gear, a mother from New Hampshire struggled to put a “Boston Strong” sweatshirt on a young boy who was crying. She wanted all her children to have the shirts, she said, “just for the community support — to show that we are strong, one nation.”
Nearby, Phil Bloom, a balloon artist from Natick also known by his stage name, Rami Salami, said the area was mostly filled with runners Sunday afternoon. “All we had down here were Bruins fans and skinny people,” he said.
Bloom had seen a lot of smiles from marathoners who brought along their whole families for the experience. “There isn’t any fear,” he said.
Later Sunday, as a blue twilight set in over Boylston Street, the last runners trickled into the Hynes Convention Center to collect race bibs.
Rob Schroeder, of La Crosse, Wis., flew into Logan International Airport late Sunday afternoon for his first Boston Marathon. Someone gave him bad directions, and he ended up on the wrong side of the city. A $30 cab ride later, and he was finally collecting his bib.
Race packet in hand, Schroeder was at last able to take a breath and contemplate the enormity of Monday.
“I think it’s finally starting to set in,” he said.