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While in Detroit, we were talking about Juneteenth (the newest Federal holiday celebrated on June 19th). It’s a “new” holiday that few people know about. The youth were complaining about the name. “It’s stupid.” “It doesn’t mean anything.” And I replied, “You mean like the Fourth of July? And Cinco de Mayo?” In case you don’t know, Juneteenth marks the day that soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to enforce the end of slavery, resulting in the Emancipation Proclamation finally being effective in every part of the United States. These two holidays, Juneteenth and the Fourth of July, mark the major struggles for freedom in our country. In one we proclaim the freedom of government; in the other we proclaim the freedom of all people.

As we prepare for our Fourth of July celebrations (aka Independence Day), I been thinking about Juneteenth (aka Emancipation Day). I heard on the podcast “HolyPost” recently from a man named Rasool Berry. And he said something that struck me as profound. He said some people call Juneteenth “Jubilee Day”. In case you don’t know, the Jubilee is a biblical holiday. Described in Leviticus 25, the Jubilee was a holiday that did 3 things: Released slaves, forgave debts, and restored foreclosed property. People’s lives were restored to them on the Jubilee, their failures were erased, and their livelihoods were returned to them. Juneteenth is our American Jubilee Day. That’s pretty awesome! There is no recorded history of the Jubilee ever actually being practiced, and though it took war to make it happen, Juneteenth is possibly the first actual national Jubilee celebration in history. Wow! Talk about a moment that touches on the divine.

Sometimes, as a white man of white ancestors raised in a rural 98% white community (my school growing up averaged 1 child of color per grade), a holiday like Juneteenth feels like it has little to do with me. My ancestors weren’t slaves (clearly I don’t celebrate the Passover enough, because that’s definitely not true). Nobody in my family was freed (maybe I should read Romans 6 sometime…). Most of my relatives didn’t come to America until after the Civil War anyway (though I do celebrate the Fourth of July, and most of my ancestors weren’t there for that either). How am I supposed to celebrate such a day? Why should it matter to me? The answer is really simple, actually. Because Juneteenth marks the end of slavery.

Juneteenth is a celebration that humans are not bound as slaves anymore, that one of the most egregious sins has been wiped off the face of the earth. Well, unfortunately, not literally. But the celebration of Juneteenth is dedicating ourselves to such a purpose. Just like how I know the Fourth of July isn’t just about creating America buts it’s a renewal of our dream that all people can live under governments “of the People, by the People, for the People”, Juneteenth is a renewal of our dream “that all persons […] are, and henceforward shall be forever free.” These holidays bookend what it means to be American, to live as part of “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all [people] are created equal.” Sometimes I wish Abraham Lincoln had written a book of the Bible, because he sees the vision of the Holy Land (all the above quotes are Lincoln’s words).

Paul in Romans 6 (heard in worship on July 2nd) says, “Having once been slaves to sin,” by the grace of God, “you have been set free from sin” and now you are forever ruled by the free gift of righteousness in Christ Jesus. In Matthew 10 (also heard in worship on July 2nd), Jesus goes on to charge his disciples to take the free gift of righteousness and share it everywhere they go. In other words, we, through our baptism, live as part of “a new nation, conceived in the Righteousness of Christ Jesus, and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created in God’s image and worthy of life and love.” Though America has rarely lived up to the ideals of its dreams or its desire to be a city shining on a hill, the ideals we hold sound an awful lot like God’s vision for this world.

So why should I celebrate Juneteenth with as much gusto as I celebrate the Fourth of July? Maybe because it’s another taste of heaven, a day when righteousness came to earth, a day when for at least a moment when could see the Kingdom of God close at hand.

If you’re interested in more about Juneteenth, watch Rasool’s documentary of Juneteenth. Or learn some basics about Juneteenth.

~Pastor Tyler Rasmussen