Easter: A Time of Reflection
"If any man come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me."
- Matthew 16:24
The mood was quiet and reflective as the 75 or so people make their way down South Fifth Street in Ironton toward Woodland Cemetery Friday afternoon.
This was not, after all, a typical church gathering. The members of Sharon Baptist Church, as well as congregants from other churches, spent Good Friday thinking somberly about the meaning of the day: The death of Jesus Christ on the cross more than 2,000 years ago.
As Sharon Baptist pastor, the Rev. Steve Harvey put it, "It was one's man gift to the whole word - the gift of salvation and faith."
For more than 15 years, members of Sharon Baptist Church in Ironton have walked from their church approximately 18 blocks to
the cemetery as part of their Holy Week observance.
As 9-year-old Alec Hasenauer stated matter-of-factly, "Jesus Christ died for us, he carried the cross for us and we want to do something for him."
This is his second year taking part, along with his mother, Tammy Lilly.
"This came about a long time ago," Harvey said. "My pastor did this when I was growing up in this town eons ago. He carried the cross, had a crown of thorns, everything. I never forgot that. It scared me but I went. I have never forgotten that and I won't ever."
And so, that tradition of remembering the last hours of Christ's life by taking up the cross continues. Angie Eaches and her husband, Joe have been taking part in the cross walk for six years.
"What God did for us, I think everyone should see," Angie Eaches said. "I think this shows that we are proud to be Christians and this is what we stand for."
The cross walk slowed traffic as the procession made it's way to the cemetery. Those who take part say they are mostly pleased with the response they get from the community.
"Usually they say 'that's great,'" Eaches said. "Even if they're not Christians, they're respectful of it."
Russ Saunders is the veteran of the group. At 95, he has been taking up the cross for more than 15 years.
"It's to honor The Lord," he said. A Christian most of his life, Saunders said taking part in the cross walk has encouraged him in his daily Christian walk.
"Quite often I think of what Christ went through - just for us. It was quite a love he had for us," Saunders said.
"You can feel just a little of what he went through, but only a little. We can't really begin to know all that he went through."
Angie Eaches said the agony that Christ went through as he carried his cross, and then died on it, is not lost on .
"He was human just like us, felt pain just like us," she said.
But many believe it was not pain without purpose.
"Salvation is free. I think that's why some people just don't get it," Angie Eaches said. "Some people think they have to do something to earn it."
And often, those who watch are drawn into what they see.
"One year, this man went with us, he was going to church here but he was an unsaved man and when we went to the cemetery and put the cross in the hole, he said it just got to him. He was this big man, got emotional, just the whole impact of what was going on. He gave his heart to The Lord," Harvey said.
Across town, three stationary crosses and a stone, symbolizing the stone that was rolled in front of the tomb after Jesus was laid to rest, adorn the front of First United Methodist Church.
"One of the members of our church came to me and asked if I thought it might be a good thing for him to do and I said 'yes' and he took it from there," explained the Rev. Wayne Young, pastor at First Methodist.
The man who made the crosses actually went into the woods, selected sassafras trees and measured the length of the boards using his own body. Once in the sun, the trees turned a reddish color.
Since the display was put up a little more than a week ago, people who have driven or walked past the church have taken notice.
"There have been several phone calls and at the community Good Friday service quite a few people asked about it," Young said.
This is the first year the church has observed the Easter season with the cross and stone. Young said it is likely to become an annual reminder of what many believe this season is all about.
"Easter is a great time of the year for Christians," Young said. "It is a time for Christians to realize the depth of God's love in the death and resurrection of his son, which promises eternal life."
On the eastern end of the county, four Chesapeake area churches joined together Friday afternoon for a five-mile cross walk.
Defender United Methodist Church, Getaway United Methodist Church, Chesapeake United Methodist Church and the Chesapeake Church of the Nazarene Church started their Good Friday tradition 5 years ago.
Beginning at Defender United Methodist Church, 50 to 60 people carry a cross along State Route 7 to Chesapeake Church of the Nazarene.
"We had decided to have combined (Holy Week) services and we wanted to do something to draw attention to what Jesus went through. It started with our youth groups but now people of all ages take part," Defender Methodist lay leader Larry Hamlin said.
Hamlin said people often honk and wave as the multitude of observers march by with their cross. He said he hopes those who see will come to believe, if they don't already.
"We want people to stop and realize, when they see the cross, what happened that day," Hamlin said. "I think of John 3:16, 'For God so loved the world,'" Hamlin said. "If Jesus hadn't come, none of this would be possible.
We just want people to know, more than the bunnies and the candy, what this time of year really means."