A Great Cloud of Witnesses: A Meditation on the Chauvin Verdict

The importance of the witnesses challenged the official verdict.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…

Hebrews 12:1

The press release told the story: There was a suspect “under the influence.” Two officers arrive and order the suspect in his 40s to get out of his car. The suspect was handcuffed and appeared to be suffering medical distress. An ambulance was called. He was taken to a local hospital where he died a short time later.

This was the press release the Minneapolis Police Department sent out on May 25, 2020 in regards to an incident at the corner of Chicago Avenue and 38th Street. We know that story as the police encounter where George Floyd died. However, the press release tells the story somewhat differently:

There is just one problem with this story: it doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t even tell a quarter of the story.

We know it doesn’t tell the whole story for one reason: there were witnesses. A number of people of all ages and ethnicities stood nearby. Some yelled for the police, especially Derek Chauvin, to stop harassing George Floyd. An off-duty EMT begged the officers to check Floyd’s pulse when he became unresponsive. A teenager with a smartphone, Darnella Frazier, took the video that has been the most widely seen: that of then-Officer Chauvin pressing his knee against George Floyd’s neck. Because there were witnesses that saw what happened, they became witnesses to a crime that led to Mr. Chauvin’s conviction.

Being a witness is risky and comes with a cost. The people who watched as George Floyd was slowly being killed have had to deal with the shock of watching this horror and also the guilt of wondering if they should have done more to stop it. Some didn’t want to come back to the area. Others break down in tears nearly a year after the crime. Maybe the most emotional testimony came from the youngest witness who will have these images seared into her mind for decades. “It felt like he was stopping his breathing and it’s kind of, like, hurting him,” nine-year-old Judeah, the cousin of Darnella Frazier.

Because there were witnesses there was cause to challenge the official story and bring a cop abusing their power to justice.

From the Podcast, Spheres of Influence.

It’s interesting that in the Bible the Greek word for the word witness, martus, also means martyr. To be a witness always comes at a cost.

So what does this all mean for us, church?

At the risk of taking the verse out of context, I am reminded of the passage from the book of Hebrews where the writer talks about being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. For the writer, it was about all the great ancestors of the faith, like Abraham and Moses. For us in these days after the verdict, I think it means that we see these witnesses who stood at a corner in Minneapolis and we pick up their torch and run to be witnesses to God’s justice.

Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in the gospel of Luke . A man is traveling and is beaten and left for dead. Two men see this man and walk on by. One man doesn’t simply see the man dying on the side of the road, but he bears witness. He places the injured man on his donkey and takes him to a hotel. In , just before he ascends into heaven, Jesus tells his disciples that they will be his witnesses throughout the world.

Jesus calls his followers to be witnesses in the world. We are to be witnesses to God’s goodness and justice. We are to pick up what those witnesses at 38th and Chicago saw and work for police reform and racial reconciliation. In the name of the one that came to earth as a mortal, lived among us and died at the hands of his day’s version of abusive law enforcement, we are to do this work. But we don’t do this in the memory of another victim of injustice. No. Easter reminds us that this one who suffered also defeated death and it reminds us that no sin, not even sin from those in authority can ever the justice of God.

We have a great cloud of witnesses around us dear church. The world wants to cover up its sins. Nothing to see here. We might be a small church, but we are witnesses to a great God. Derek Chauvin has been convicted, but there is work to do. Let us take up the work of these witnesses in Minneapolis. The work is not done. May God empower us to work for healing. May we be witnesses of wholeness and healing in a fragmented world. Amen.

Being a witness is risky and comes with a cost. The people who watched as George Floyd was slowly being killed have had to deal with the shock of watching this horror and also the guilt of wondering if they should have done more to stop it. Some didn’t want to come back to the area. Others break down in tears nearly a year after the crime. Maybe the most emotional testimony came from the youngest witness who will have these images seared into her mind for decades. “It felt like he was stopping his breathing and it’s kind of, like, hurting him,” nine-year-old Judeah, the cousin of Darnella Frazier.

Because there were witnesses there was cause to challenge the official story and bring a cop abusing their power to justice.

It’s interesting that in the Bible the Greek word for the word witness, martus, also means martyr. To be a witness always comes at a cost.

So what does this all mean for us, church?

At the risk of taking the verse out of context, I am reminded of the passage from the book of Hebrews where the writer talks about being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. For the writer, it was about all the great ancestors of the faith, like Abraham and Moses. For us in these days after the verdict, I think it means that we see these witnesses who stood at a corner in Minneapolis and we pick up their torch and run to be witnesses to God’s justice.

Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in the gospel of Luke . A man is traveling and is beaten and left for dead. Two men see this man and walk on by. One man doesn’t simply see the man dying on the side of the road, but he bears witness. He places the injured man on his donkey and takes him to a hotel. In , just before he ascends into heaven, Jesus tells his disciples that they will be his witnesses throughout the world.

Jesus calls his followers to be witnesses in the world. We are to be witnesses to God’s goodness and justice. We are to pick up what those witnesses at 38th and Chicago saw and work for police reform and racial reconciliation. In the name of the one that came to earth as a mortal, lived among us and died at the hands of his day’s version of abusive law enforcement, we are to do this work. But we don’t do this in the memory of another victim of injustice. No. Easter reminds us that this one who suffered also defeated death and it reminds us that no sin, not even sin from those in authority can ever the justice of God.

We have a great cloud of witnesses around us dear church. The world wants to cover up its sins. Nothing to see here. We might be a small church, but we are witnesses to a great God. Derek Chauvin has been convicted, but there is work to do. Let us take up the work of these witnesses in Minneapolis. The work is not done. May God empower us to work for healing. May we be witnesses of wholeness and healing in a fragmented world. Amen.

A middle-aged pastor living in Minneapolis. I write about politics, religion, sexuality, and autism. https://www.dennislsanders.net/

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