Juneteenth on Monday, June 19

Before I moved to Texas and had lived there for several years, I knew almost nothing about Juneteenth. I am sad and embarrassed to admit this; and also must acknowledge that not much was said or taught in wider – or white – culture until recent years. Power does not often surrender itself without insistence. 

It was in my prior parish before coming to St. Michael’s that an African-American “mother” in that church lovingly educated me, not only about the historic details of the holiday, but also to why, for her and for many, Juneteenth represents something deep and elemental in the experience of Black people in America – persistent vigilance and diligence in the fight for true freedom.

On June 19, 1865, federal soldiers arrived on the coast of Galveston, Texas to ensure that all enslaved persons were freed from slavery in that state – more than TWO YEARS after the emancipation proclamation officially ended slavery in the war-torn United States.  

On Juneteenth, we should be reminded that evil powers do not willingly cede territory to righteousness.  No matter what appearance of victory for a righteous cause or what significant milestones may be achieved in the struggle, we cannot let up our persistence, our commitment, and our work for true freedom and justice for all.

This Sunday we will hear an important passage from the Gospel of Matthew (9.5-10.23). It is Jesus’ commissioning of the Twelve Disciples as “sheep among the wolves” to “proclaim the good news: the Kingdom of heaven has come near” and to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons.”  As Christians, we work to make God’s liberating word come true in the world, wherever there remain remnants of evil.  This is not just in the spiritual dimension– it is activated in the solidarity and struggle with our siblings in the human family, yet burdened and bound in this sin-sick world.

I invite us to educate ourselves this Juneteenth: to learn more about the historic episode, to honor the hard-won freedom of Black siblings on this day, and to discover our own complicity in racist and unjust systems. We do this so we can engage in work that makes true freedom possible for all.

“Almighty God, you rescued your people from slavery in Egypt, and throughout the ages you have never failed to hear the cries of the captives; We remember before you our sisters and brothers in Galveston, Texas who received the glad tidings of their emancipation; Forgive us for the many grave sins that delayed that liberating word; Anoint us with your Spirit to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

(Collect for Juneteenth, The Episcopal Church)