Celebrating Juneteenth

Jun 16, 2022Blog, Culture

On January 1, 1863 over 2 million slaves were set free due to the Emancipation Proclamation given by Abraham Lincoln. Unfortunately, that wasn’t all enslaved peoples. There were still approximately 250,000 more slaves in Texas who were still considered property. They had been declared free. They just didn’t know it yet, they hadn’t experienced it yet. There was no real way for them to get the good news. No protection to begin to live differently. And there were real enemies trying to keep them from finding that out. Enemies that benefited from their enslavement. Enemies that had become so dehumanized that the idea of ‘owning’ another human not only failed to prick their conscience, but had metastasized to degrading, abusing, and in some cases killing black image bearers of God.

While Lincoln had given the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the Confederate army had not given up yet. It wasn’t until Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, VA in April of 1865 that the Civil War was officially over. From there, General Granger headed West and arrived in Galveston, TX on June 19th, 1865 to inform slaves of their legal right of freedom. After the war was won, Granger took up the responsibility of being the bringer of good news. News to set the captives free. Life changing, good news. 

Juneteenth was a pivotal moment in American history. Frederick Douglass believed the nation had “no greater turning point” because it provided African Americans with the ability to “claim a new and secure social identity.” The increased recognition and celebration of Juneteenth is a good step in the right direction for a healthier America, but it’s not enough if there isn’t reflection and consideration of how the effects of slavery have manifested down the highways of history into today. Celebrations are doorways, not ends; doorways into new relationships, a new way of seeing, new burdens and deeper understanding. They are opportunities for people to experience a new humanity. A humanity that doesn’t feast on the fast food of fear and foolishness. A humanity that loves to love God and others. 

Which is why Juneteenth is such a great story. It carries within its narrative the contours of the Gospel itself–the only thing that can unlock a new heart to even want to live into this new humanity. The greatest victory ever won wasn’t Gettysburg, Saratoga, Marathon, Waterloo or the Atlantic. The greatest battle ever won was when Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:15) through His death. Jesus defeated satan, sin and death by dying and resurrecting back to life. There is no greater victory than that. That’s why it’s called “Good News.” When a person enters into a relationship with the living God through Jesus, they are officially declared righteous by God. This is the declaration that sets the captives free. Ones who were captive to sin, unseen captors and even death. And you receive a new heart, one filled with the Holy Spirit, that now wants to live differently, wants to love and wants to honor the Lord. 

Which is why I believe it’s right and good to celebrate Juneteenth. So, join a celebration this year. Read up on these particular eras of our nation’s history. Listen to people’s stories about how Juneteenth has been a big part of their lives for years and what it means to them. Break out the Fisk Jubilee Singers and take in the sounds and lyrics of the old spirituals that sustained slaves throughout this terrible historical moment. Regardless of your skin color, as a follower of Jesus, we all have much to glean from Juneteenth. 

Because the battles still rage. The enemies of satan, sin and death don’t just give up that easily. Though they have been defeated, they don’t quit. Misery really does love company. Texas planters knew of the news before it arrived, but they wanted to get one more harvest out of their slaves. It’s awful to reflect on it: For some, economic benefit was more important than helping another human being experience the freedom that had been won for them. And the enemies of God will exploit as many people as possible for as long as possible to enjoy perceived authority they carry in this world. 

However, just like those 2.5 years between the Emancipation Proclamation and Juneteenth, that perceived authority is time-stamped. Soon and very soon, a better General Granger is going to saddle up a horse and emerge from the heavens. For all who have been called to Jesus, declared righteous because of faith in Him, and who await His arrival by following Him and His ways, the real celebration is just about to begin. 

The celebration of the ultimate freedom, joyfully experienced with people from every tribe, tongue and nation, in the presence of the one who won it for us.