I pulled back the curtain to the patient’s room in the Emergency Department. It billowed like a hot air balloon from the crowd of medical experts surrounding the patient in her bed. She was too unstable to move to the ICU, so they continued CPR in her room. “Another round of epi!” someone shouted. The first thing I saw was a relaxed hand hanging off of the bed as if she was laying in a hammock, resting in the summer sun. Her hand began to bounce quickly up and down, rippling from the quake whose epicenter was at her heart. My eyes followed her flopping limb up her neck and down to her chest. Each compression plunged stubborn, lethargic blood deeper into her chest cavity, her ribs, and would hopefully awaken her still heart. The woman resuscitating stood on a stool. She was an oil well drilling into dry ground. Three nurses took turns, silently compressing, deeper and deeper. The patient’s bed looked like mine as a kid, when my brother and I took turns jumping on it to see who could go the highest.
As a hospital chaplain, this was my first time witnessing CPR. With a lump in my throat, I had a hard time swallowing the purpose of this life-giving violence.
A physician describes part of the experience of crucifixion by saying it entails, “hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint wrenching cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from the lacerated back as they move up and down against rough timber.” On Good Friday, we remember Christ’s body, his pain, suffering, and death. And on Good Friday, when I think about crucifixion with a knot in my stomach, I have a hard time digesting the purpose of this life-giving violence.
On Good Friday, the crowd urgently demanded over and over, “Crucify him!” even as Pilate objected. This was only hours after Christ shared with his disciples “this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19, NIV).
The life-giving violence of the cross surpasses my own understanding and, yet, I believe it bears all of our suffering and our deaths. At work, I try to hold in tension— sometimes with quivering hands—the violence of the cross with the hope and healing of the resurrection.
As a chaplain, I host feelings. I help normalize broken bodies, suffering, illness, and death. I invite grief and I pray for healing. I work alongside Christ. I serve as an emotional doula helping the laboring community give birth to their grief over a loved one’s death. Christ is present, with open and embracing arms, acting as midwife.
As Christians, we cannot experience Good Friday without Easter in mind. As a chaplain, I cannot experience death without Good Friday in mind. I cannot separate the pain and suffering I witness in the hospital from my knowledge of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross.
On Good Friday, we recall Christ’s body, his pain, suffering, and death. A visceral pain we remember every time we are re-membered into Christ’s body during communion. We come to the table united in our brokenness and we pray for healing. In the same way, each one of us will eventually approach our own death.
In light of Good Friday, I peer into the billowing curtain of a dying patient’s room and see the temple curtain torn in two, remembering that Christ died while we were yet sinners.
Laura Tardie works as a hospital chaplain in North Carolina and is a recent graduate of Duke Divinity School.