Unimaginable suffering. Excruciating pain. Bottomless grief.  Incomprehensible cruelty.  All of that is on display on this most somber day when we remember the death, the execution, of Jesus. 

    It’s a hard story to hear. We don’t like to dwell on the pain of Good Friday. That is why there are usually a fraction of the people in church on this day that are here for Easter.  We don’t want to hear the agony of Jesus’ death.

    It was the same in Jesus’ day. All but one of the disciples who promised to follow him through thick and thin fled from the crucifixion. That was in part because of their fear of what might happen to them if they were identified as followers of Jesus.

    But I think it was also because they could not bear to see their beloved friend’s broken and tortured body nailed to the cross. They couldn’t bear to stand there long minutes watching him dying in agony.

    They could not bear to be a witness.

    This week as we walk with Jesus through the last week of his life we have also been walking through another death of unimaginable suffering, excruciating pain, and incomprehensible cruelty. 

    Our television screens and devices have been full of the images of the final terrible minutes of George Floyd’s life. 

    I am not comparing the lives of Jesus and George Floyd. But the similarities in their deaths is striking.

    One thing that has struck me as I’ve once again read the story of Jesus’ death and watched the trial of George Floyd’s killer is the witnesses.

    Though most of the male disciples fled that day, there were witnesses to Jesus’ death. His mother was there, along with his aunt. His beloved friends Mary Magdalene and John were present.

    They were there to bear witness, to watch the unimaginable cruelty that led to Jesus’ death, to let Jesus know that he was not alone, to make sure that the story of his death was not forgotten.

    I’ve often wondered how difficult that must have been, what strength it must have taken. 

    We got an idea of that this week as we’ve heard from the witnesses to George Floyd’s death.

    Person after person testified to what they saw that day — the agony of watching him suffocate, the frustration of not being able to stop it, the anger at such blatant cruelty.

    It has been 10 months since Floyd’s death, and yet every single witness was in tears as they testified. 

    They have nightmares about what they saw. They have guilt for not being able to stop it. They hear Floyd crying that he can’t breathe, calling for his Mama.

    None of them knew George Floyd before that day, but their lives have been forever changed by what they witnessed at his death.

    Seeing these witnesses gives us a least an inkling of what Mary, Mary Magdalene, and John experienced as they watched Jesus die — not for nine minutes, but for three hours.

As they heard him cry in pain. As he, too, reached out to his mother, whose heart was breaking.

    This week we, too, have been called to bear witness, to both the deaths of Jesus and George Floyd. We are called to remember Jesus’ crucifixion. And we are called to watch the abuse of power that killed George Floyd.

    We are called to be changed by what we witness.

    In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ last words in his earthly life are “It is finished.”

    But we know the story of Jesus did not end that day. We know that although Jesus’ earthly flesh and blood life was finished, in many ways his story was just beginning. 

    The witnesses to his life, his death, and his resurrection testified to what they saw and experienced and the world was forever changed.

    Death is also not the end of George Floyd’s story. The witnesses with their words and images have let us know what happened that day. Because of them, Floyd’s death has sparked a movement, calling us as a nation to change, to repent, to. ensure that Black lives do matter.

    But those are stories for another day. 

    Today we are called to witness, to watch, to pray.

    Yesterday I read a Holy Week prayer written by a young woman from Seattle, Cameron Wiggins Bellm that I’d like to end with tonight. 

    It is Good Friday. The day when we journey with Jesus through his passion. The day when he asks us, while sweating blood, to watch, and pray.

    Yesterday I was reading about and watching part of the trial of Derek Chauvin, and I was overwhelmed by the similarity. I wept and felt certain of one thing: we are called to bear witness.

    The trial is excruciating to watch. Not as excruciating as the suffering of George. Not as excruciating as the suffering of his family and friends. Not as excruciating as the suffering of everyone who has experienced racism. 

    It’s so easy to look away from suffering when it doesn’t directly affect us. But still Jesus calls us: will you watch and pray?

    Every witness called to the stand Wednesday cried.

    Watch and pray.

    A juror stood up abruptly, motioning that she was going to be sick.

    Watch and pray.

    The defense tried to paint the witnesses as angry people with faulty memories.

    Watch and pray.

    Eight minutes and 46 seconds.

    Watch and pray.


    Watch and pray.

    This Holy Week we have an opportunity to enter into the suffering of Christ and to recognize that suffering in George Floyd, in his family, in his community.

    Will we watch and pray?

    We need to see and bear witness to what human beings can do to each other. We need to see the depths to which humanity can sink.

    Christ on the cross, George Floyd on the ground.

    We need to see so that, God help us, we may never let it happen again.

    Lord, have mercy.

    Christ, have mercy.

    Lord, have mercy.

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