Beloved St. John’s community,
This coming Saturday is “Juneteenth”, the day African Americans and their allies have celebrated the emancipation of slaves in the United States. We celebrate it because it was the day in 1865 when Major General Gordan Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to declare the emancipation of slaves (which had actually occurred nearly two and one half years earlier) and to ensure that this occurred in fact and not just in political declaration.
The celebration of Juneteenth is not just a day for Black people to celebrate. The day the slaves were freed in the United States was a day every person in our country benefitted, because one of the cruelest forms of systemic racism had ended. As Alice Walker said in her powerful novel The Color Purple, “If you cut a tree, my arm would bleed.” In other words, we are all connected, and when some people suffer, it is bad for everyone. But mostly we can and should celebrate because those who were born of African descent, human beings with the same self-evident right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as all the rest of those in this country, were finally released. Our nation has many great ideals, among which freedom is primary. Juneteenth is an opportunity to celebrate when this ideal was realized, not just for some, but for those who had been so cruelly deprived of their freedom for nearly 250 years.
Our beloved teacher, friend, healer and savior Jesus of Nazareth declared in his own mission statement that
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has appointed me to …. Proclaim release to the captives … and to let the oppressed go free….” (Luke 4:14-20).
Since the liberation of the Israelite slaves in Egypt, the God of our scriptures has decidedly and unequivocally declared that oppression and injustice have no place in God’s kingdom. In fidelity to Christ, to the God of our scriptures, our own deep conscience, and the well-being and healing of our neighbors, then, I invite us all to celebrate Juneteenth on Saturday. We are called to freedom: not a freedom that means everyone should do whatever they impulsively want, but one granted us by God’s Spirit that frees us from the bonds of racism, from the weight of the past, from the burden of self-centeredness.
For we are told:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17)
Jesus said [to them], “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Let the truth of God’s unconditional love for all people set us free to become the Beloved Community; to see that what affects one affects us all; and to celebrate with thunderous gladness when the justice of God’s kingdom breaks into the world as we know it.
In Christ’s love,