This photograph was taken by Carlos Gonzalez for the Star Tribune at a protest in Minneapolis on May 27, 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer. We see a drawing of Floyd hung up on a pole with two police officers in riot gear and gas masks standing on either side. In the drawing Floyd looks happy, peaceful, full of life. He doesn’t look like he’s just been crucified.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man was killed while he was being arrested for allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. The arresting officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd’s neck with his knee for almost 9 minutes while Floyd begged for his life. The entire incident was caught on video by bystanders who tried to intervene to save Floyd’s life, explaining that they could see that Floyd was in distress and that he had apparently stopped breathing. The video sent shockwaves around the world and began yet another reckoning with police brutality and racism in the United States of America.
Watching a man murdered on video is a gut-wrenching experience, but one aspect of the video that stood out to many of us as particularly devastating was that Floyd told the officers, “I can’t breathe,” more than 20 times. “I can’t breathe!” became a rallying cry once again in protests directed at the police.
Crucifixion is such a brutal execution, it’s likely that autopsies of the victims of crucifixion would reveal a range of possible causes of death—exposure, heart failure, and asphyxiation. When the strength of a victim’s arms and legs gave out on the cross and they were hanging as dead weight, it would become very difficult to inhale and exhale, and eventually the body becomes so exhausted that the crucified person can’t breathe.
From the perspective of Good Friday, George Floyd was crucified. Not just because agents of the state stopped his breathing, but because crucifixion, in the ancient world and within our Christian tradition, is the ultimate statement of the powers of death. For the Roman Empire, the ones who crucified Jesus, death on a cross was not merely a way to dispose of one human life. Crucifixion was a tool to crush the hopes of all people who refused to serve them or bow to them. For the Jewish people who believed that they were created in the image of God, crucifixion was meant to be a violent reeducation declaring that you have been made and will be unmade according to the power and the
vision of Rome. The cross was raised up like a billboard, a living-dying-bodily advertisement of power and subjugation. The crucified human being on the cross, raised before their own community to slowly, publicly suffer, became a torturous exposition of the personal and collective frailty of the vanquished. The cross was a simple, practical way of showing the world who the boss was, and the cross was the Empire’s way of celebrating its own vicious victory over the lives of those it was conquering.
Thousands and thousands were crucified as Jesus was. And thousands and thousands
more, witnessing these executions, slipped beneath the hopelessness of that overpowering statement of death—you are less than God made you to be.
We observe Good Friday not because there is any truth or glory in what is happening on
Golgotha—what is happening to Jesus, what is happening to George Floyd, what is happening to countless others. We are here today because we are called upon by Christ to see through this lie. We are called by Christ to repudiate it. And so we must say, “Black Lives Matter,” and we must fight to make the world behave like it’s true.
Let us pray the prayer written onto this picture of George Floyd:
Oh, my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls into heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy. Amen.
Jesus the Imagination
Thoughts and dreams, musings and meditations