Sadly, I didn’t know Juneteenth was a “thing” until quite recently, maybe only two or three years ago. I’m guessing that others might be willing to admit the same. I’m also pretty sure that when the new law was signed earlier this week making June 19 a federal holiday, plenty of folks in this country asked, “why do we need to make such a big deal out of it?”
Yesterday, we remembered the tragedy that took place on June 17, 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine faithful people, gathered in prayer and bible study, were killed that day. Like many of us, the shooter had been raised Lutheran, in an ELCA congregation. But the sin of racism he carried within himself was so powerful that he was still able to commit this horrible act. This is why we need to make a big deal out of Juneteenth.
“Juneteenth is a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. It recalls how the states of Louisiana and Texas heard the news that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Slavery continued in those two states for more than two years after the proclamation was signed beaus the word had yet to travel there. Texas and Louisiana finally got the good news on June 19, 1865. Former slaves broke out in spontaneous celebration. These were dangerous times. Even in the face of resistance and threat, the formerly enslaved Africans found ways to give voice to the wide range of thoughts and emotions at the announcement of the end of legalized slavery in the United States of America.”*
The rhetoric around racial justice seems to be getting more and more complicated and even more heated of late. It’s strange to me that opportunities for bringing to light the truths about our past being met with such resistance. Taking time to acknowledge the pain that our neighbors have and continue to suffer is also an opportunity to check in with our callings to love and serve with compassion. In marking this holiday tomorrow, we will make a big deal for the sake of all those who want to hear the good news and experience the freedom God has promised for each of us.
“Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. Now I’ve been free, I know what a dreadful condition slavery is. I have seen hundreds of escaped slaves, but I never saw one who was willing to go back and be a slave.” ~~ Harriet Tubman*
May God’s peace find you this day. -Pastor Peter
Let us pray…
O God, call us into a deeper relationship to be your church for the sake of the world. Help us to see with new eyes the injustices within church and society. Call us to have a loving heart that respects and uplifts the humanity and dignity of every person; open our ears to listen to and learn from the experiences of people of color. Open our mouths to speak up and about injustices. Join us with others to work for racial equity and inclusion for all people. Amen.*
*Reprinted from the “ELCA Worship Resource for Juneteenth,” © 2019