Reflecting on Juneteenth
JUNE 19, 2023
How do you celebrate your freedom in Christ?
When it comes to modern worship music I confess that after a song is in rotation for a few years I tend to get sick of it (they can’t all be “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” amirite?). Not so for “Lord I Need You” which is in pretty regular rotation at our church.
I must have belted out, “where you are, Lord I am free. Holiness is Christ in me,” some unknown hundreds of times. And my sincerity hasn’t waned yet.
The theology in those lines also has that rare balance of being both simple and profound at the same time. It’s a million dollar doctrinal statement that could be in the runnings for a sine quo non of the faith.
Don’t you want to shout it from the rooftops? Jesus Christ is alive and He dwells among His people. He doesn’t condemn or enslave, but sets them free!
I was reading Acts 8 recently and I’m always fascinated by the group of Samaritan Christians who had “not yet received the Holy Spirit” (v. 14-17). It’s not a text you tend to discuss in your new member’s class, and it doesn’t fit neatly into most of our “theological categories.” It raises more questions than answers. How could they “receive the message” and yet not have the Holy Spirit?
These folks had heard the salvation message, but not actually received the tangible gift of that salvation. Their freedom had been declared, but the means of applying that freedom hadn’t been received yet.
It’d be like being in prison and reading in the newspaper that you were free. But…those nasty iron bars still hadn’t swung open yet. How long could you exist in that state of limbo? Knowing good news had been proclaimed, but not yet personalized for you.
Thankfully, for these Samaritan believers, Peter and John come to remedy the situation quickly and pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit.
Imagine there were forces who didn’t want the good news of freedom in Jesus to be published?
If you’re familiar at all with the Protestant Reformation you might not have to imagine. You’re likely already aware that the powerful Roman Church was not in favor of translating the gospel into the people’s native tongue so as to prevent them from finding true freedom.
Thankfully, those of us living on this side of the Reformation have folks like Tyndale, Wycliffe, and Luther to thank for bravely working to translate the Good News.
From where I sit, all of this stuff happened on the other side of the ocean and long before any of my ancestors came to this country. But there are some living here who may see some uncanny parallels.
As a white kid growing up in a small town, Juneteenth wasn’t a part of my education. In fact, I’d only heard about it a couple of years ago. Similar to the Roman Church’s insistence that mass be held in Latin—a language not spoken by the majority of their congregations—slave owners denied their captives the right to read. They were able to exploit this to maintain a two and a half year gap between the freedom declared by Lincoln and the experience of said freedom for their “property.”
With the unerasable stain of slavery being a big part of American history, we should talk about this. Healing doesn’t happen in silence.
It’s almost a surprise that I’ve met more than one person with a similar background and culture to mine who is resistant to this celebration. Juneteenth isn’t my celebration, but it should be a celebration. As one with a gaze toward heaven, I’m a big fan of celebrations. For us Christians, it should really be a no brainer. Christ has set us free, and the more people we can welcome into freedom the bigger the win for us. And Christ’s unconquerable kingdom. May it descend here, as it is in heaven.