Imagine waking up paralyzed and suffocating. Add to that the confusion of not knowing where you were, one moment talking to you doctor and the next finding yourself in a tube; a truly “come to Jesus” moment for me.
I didn’t realize it, but I had had a seizure in my doctor’s office and was rushed to Community Medical Center where I woke up in the CAT scanner. I was paralyzed from a drug they had given me to prevent movement in case I had another seizure, and they didn’t realize that the medication to keep me sedated had worn off. I remember hearing them ask each other why so much fluid was coming from my mouth. They figured it out once I started chewing on the G tube they had put down my throat. For some reason, even though my whole body was paralyzed, I was able to chew. Go figure.
Initially I thought I was dead, thinking to myself, “death is not very comfortable!” The next thought that came into my head was the crucifixion of Christ, how he couldn’t breathe, how he couldn’t move, how much pain he suffered as he hung on that cross. Lights out . . . they medicated me again with the drug that killed Michael Jackson.
I had a little glimpse of the crucifixion and did not like it at all! The glimpse didn’t include the searing pain of nails in my flesh, the mocking of the crowds, or the spear in my side. The glimpse I received was of total helplessness and suffocation.
I had plenty of time to ponder my experience in ICU and thought of the willingness of the eternal Word, our Lord Jesus through whom all things were made, to die such a miserable and terrible death for the sake of the world, for the sake of you and me.
In one way, I’m glad I had this experience, however miserable and scary it was, because it knocked the gold and silver off my cross and exposed the blood and splinters of the real cross, splinters that no doubt found their way into the painful wounds of Jesus, caused by the lash and the nails.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son (John 3:16)” became very profound to me as I contemplated the value God puts on our lives at Jesus' expense. St. Paul writes in Galatians, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us: for it is written, cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree . . . (3:13)"
I know I should be talking about Resurrection, but I want to remain at Golgotha for a while because, for me, the awe of the Resurrection can only be understood in the shadow of that cross, that lonely cross.
It is only natural to want to skip from glory to glory (Christmas to Easter), forgetting or minimizing Good Friday, to cover the blood soaked cross with gold or silver – to clean Good Friday up, so to speak. However, I am coming to realize more profoundly that the true joy of Easter can only be understood in the equally true and gruesome agony of the cross. To put it another way, a selfless act done on any of our accounts can only be understood if we have a true glimpse of what that selfless act causes the one doing it. I think we have all had at least one experience in our lives in which someone has done something extraordinary for us. And we know that it is extraordinary because of the cost the giver paid to do it for us.
We're all familiar with the famous painting of the "praying hands" by Albrecht Durer. The story behind those time ravaged hands is this:
Back in the fifteenth century, in a tiny village near Nuremberg, lived a family with eighteen children. Eighteen! In order merely to keep food on the table for this mob, the father and head of the household, goldsmith by profession, worked almost eighteen hours a day at his trade and any other paying chore he could find in the neighborhood. Despite their seemingly hopeless condition, two of Albrecht Durer the Elder’s children had a dream. They both wanted to pursue their talent for art, but they knew full well that their father would never be financially able to send either of them to Nuremberg to study at the Academy.
After many long discussions at night in their crowded bed, the two boys finally worked out a pact. They would toss a coin. The loser would go down into the nearby mines and, with his earnings, support his brother while he attended the academy. Then, when that brother who won the toss completed his studies, in four years, he would support the other brother at the academy, either with sales of his artwork or, if necessary, also by laboring in the mines. They tossed a coin on a Sunday morning after church. Albrecht Durer won the toss and went off to Nuremberg.
Albert went down into the dangerous mines and, for the next four years, financed his brother, whose work at the academy was almost an immediate sensation. Albrecht’s etchings, his woodcuts, and his oils were far better than those of most of his professors, and by the time he graduated, he was beginning to earn considerable fees for his commissioned works.
When the young artist returned to his village, the Durer family held a festive dinner on their lawn to celebrate Albrecht’s triumphant homecoming. After a long and memorable meal, punctuated with music and laughter, Albrecht rose from his honored position at the head of the table to drink a toast to his beloved brother for the years of sacrifice that had enabled Albrecht to fulfill his ambition.
His closing words were, “And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn. Now you can go to Nuremberg to pursue your dream, and I will take care of you.” All heads turned in eager expectation to the far end of the table where Albert sat, tears streaming down his pale face, shaking his lowered head from side to side while he sobbed and repeated, over and over, “No …no …no …no.”
Finally, Albert rose and wiped the tears from his cheeks. He glanced down the long table at the faces he loved, and then, holding his hands close to his right cheek, he said softly, “No, brother. I cannot go to Nuremberg. It is too late for me. Look … look what four years in the mines have done to my hands! The bones in every finger have been smashed at least once, and lately I have been suffering from arthritis so badly in my right hand that I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast, much less make delicate lines on parchment or canvas with a pen or a brush. No, brother … for me it is too late.”
Christ is risen! He has risen indeed! But only after he suffered an agonizing death on that cross, that lonely cross for the love of you and me.