Juneteenth

Rev. Dr. John Jones – Associate Regional Minister of Education

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15

I first heard of “Juneteenth” back in the late 80’s and early 90’s in Atlanta. I didn’t understand the historical significance of the celebration at the time. I only recognized that it was a big deal because of the participation and the impact it had on the city.

In 2021, Juneteenth (officially Juneteenth National Independence Day) was recognized as a federal holiday. It is celebrated annually on June 19 (June + nineteenth = Juneteenth). What exactly is celebrated on that day?

On June 19, 1865, enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, received word of their emancipation. A formal decree liberated all slaves who remained in bondage two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect and two months after the Civil War had ended at Appomattox. The delay was not entirely attributable to slow communications. The reality of freedom had to be enforced by 2000 Federal troops led by General Gordon Granger.

I’m so grateful that we have this new national holiday. It writes into the calendar the true history of this country that is being denied in so many circles these days. Juneteenth celebrates the legal end of a national sin. But sin being sin, the consequences and fruit of that sin continue. The structures and institutions that make up U.S. culture would not be what they are today without that sin.

White supremacy is a slippery and powerful foe that privileges some at the expense of others. It resists exposure to preserve the status quo.  Juneteenth is a step in the direction of truth-telling. What we celebrate would not have been possible without identifying white supremacy, so our culture must tell the truth about itself.

It is a celebration that Christians in the U.S. should wholeheartedly embrace, and not just to comply with Paul’s command from Romans quoted above. This holiday exemplifies an important aspect of our faith.

There is the “already/not yet” aspect of the celebration. As Christians, we know that our salvation is here already, but not yet here in fullness. We continue to participate with what God is doing to bring freedom into the world. Here we celebrate justice, healing and freedom for those who have those honored the least.

I’m also invited to celebrate freedom and liberation, even liberation from the structures and institutions that I benefit from. Grace is hope for the past. It doesn’t erase the past. Nor does it undo the damage of the past. It can bring hope for further liberation as we celebrate this history.

I hope you have a blessed and reflective Juneteenth.

Posted in News, Staff Articles.