As the crowd began to move along Wells Drive, Daniel Odom hoisted a giant cross above his head, his outstretched hands gripping each side of the horizontal fence post while the upright post rested along his spine.
It was the first time he had ever made the mile-and-a-half journey that was the annual Good Friday Way of the Cross Walk through south Augusta.
An estimated 500 people walked with him Friday, many carrying crosses of varying sizes.
Odom’s was by far the largest.
He built it the day before out of fence posts and rope. He built a smaller, similar one for his fiancée, Katie Gilliland, to carry as she made the journey with him.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “The point of toting it is to try to get the feel of what Jesus was going through when he was toting it for our sins, so I wanted to make it difficult.”
The cross walkers had already conquered the first leg of the journey, from Burns Memorial United Methodist Church on Lumpkin Road, to Ascension Lutheran Church on Wells Drive, and were embarking on the second leg through the neighborhood to Hillcrest Baptist Church on Deans Bridge Road.
At each stop, they rested, listened to Scripture readings and sang hymns before moving on. The walk ended at St. Joseph Catholic Church.
After a few steps of carrying the cross over his head as he left Ascension, Odom readjusted his load, turning it sideways and carrying it over his shoulder – the way depictions of Jesus often show it, the base of the cross nearly dragging the ground.
He said his thoughts rarely strayed from his reason for being there: to reflect on Jesus’ walk to Golgotha, carrying the cross he would hang on until he died.
Odom’s face quickly grew red and his breathing labored as he plodded along near the back of the crowd.
“(This) pales in comparison to what he had to go through,” Odom said. “I’m just trying to focus on the fact that even though it feels difficult, it’s not anything compared to what Jesus had to go through for us. It’s like I need to suck it up.”
Gilliland and Steve Patteson, the assistant pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church, where the couple attends, walked along with him, offering encouragement or a respite if needed.
Occasionally someone would ask to carry the burden for a while, which gave Odom opportunity to rest.
“Luckily I have a good group of people helping me,” he said. “They’re encouraging me to keep moving and keep my mind on what we’re here for, sort of helping me kind of push through.”
Even Jesus did not carry his cross alone, said Marion Cosper.
Cosper embarked on the journey for the first time in years, as his health had rendered him physically unable to participate. His wife, Debbie, carried a crucifix as she walked beside him.
For the past three years, as Cosper battled heart attacks and problems with vertebrae in his neck, he contemplated the meaning of suffering.
“Jesus didn’t want to do it. He said, ‘I don’t want to do it,’ ” Cosper said. “I figured suffering is not just pain, like people say. Often it’s not your way. Anything (that is) not your way is suffering,” he said.
He said Simon of Cyrene did not want to carry Jesus’ cross, but was forced to. But in doing so, he helped Jesus with salvation.
“If you embrace the cross, like Simon did, if you embrace and do it, you help Jesus carry the cross. You help Jesus save the world,” he said.
“You do it every day, but this is the expression,” he said.