Juneteenth is an important day for us as a global church community. It is a day that is an opportunity for us all to: remember, lament, celebrate, and worship. Here are four historical facts that should be especially important to us as a global spiritual family:
- One of the first names for Juneteenth was JUBILEE AS DESCRIBED IN LEVITICUS 25:8-28!
- The events that led up to Juneteenth were A DIRECT ANSWER TO MANY PRAYERS!
- The first Juneteenth was CELEBRATED IN PART IN A CHURCH!
And fourth, Juneteenth is an important historical day when earth became more like heaven!
I realize this is perhaps a radical statement to make about a newly named official government holiday in the United States of America. But isn’t that exactly the God that we serve, a radical God who continuously does the miraculous. Whose heart is expressed in the words He taught us to pray in Matthew 6:9-13, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Who gives us a picture of His Kingdom in Revelation 7:9 where it says, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
Juneteenth remembers, laments, and celebrates the day when about 3.5 million people experienced freedom from slavery!!!! 3.5 million people of one race, enslaved because of this one aspect of who they were. 3.5 million people of the Black/African American race.
Here is a little bit of historical context to increase your understanding. Juneteenth was first celebrated in January of 1866 in the United States of America, the celebration marking the day six months earlier in 1865 when our African American (Black) sisters and brothers in the state of Texas finally gained their freedom from 246 years of slavery. Although 2.5 years earlier in 1863 the president of the United States of America had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves living in union states, it took 2.5 years for this to become reality for the 250,000 mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, and grandparents still enslaved in Texas. Their freedom was delayed. It wasn’t until the freedom soldiers came to Texas and physically enforced it.
One of the first Juneteenth celebrations was led by Jack Yates. A spiritual brother, whose life shows us both the fullness and restorative power of the gospel. Jack Yates spent his first 35 years as a slave, choosing in 1863 to be re-enslaved so that he could be with his family whose slave master intentionally moved to Texas to avoid freeing his slaves. Jack Yates only learned how to read because of his friendship with the son of his first slave master who used the Bible to teach him how to read. One of the first things Jack Yates did when his whole family was free was start a church.
The first Juneteenth was celebrated by our Black sisters and brothers with prayer and worship and the wearing of new clothes to testify to their freedom. In its early beginning Juneteenth quickly became an annual tradition for African Americans as the celebrations spread to other states.
Our free spiritual sisters and brothers saw the day as a fulfillment of God’s promise to them and this was in part why they worshipped and celebrated. This is still a good reason to worship and celebrate on Juneteenth. Here is the link to an incredible movie made about Juneteenth by Our Daily Bread Ministries Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom.
Although Juneteenth is a day to celebrate it also holds tensions. Barbecues, family and friends getting together, parades, special church services, speeches, and prayer and worship are important celebrations of Juneteenth. But also notable are the tensions. Juneteenth holds the tragic tension that it took 2.5 extra years for freedom to come to the slaves living in Texas. Juneteenth holds the tragic tension of the horrific 246 years history of slavery in the United States of America and other countries. Juneteenth holds the tragic tension of how racism followed the abolishment of slavery.
It also holds the unjust tension that although gains have been made for ethnic and racial healing and unity in the United States of America, and across the world on behalf of all people of color, there is still work that needs to be done to achieve the type of justice and unity that the Bible speaks about, specifically in Psalm 99:4 (TPT) as one example:
“A lover of justice is our mighty King; he is right in all his ways.
He insists on being fair to all,
promoting true justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
Whether you live in the United States or at one of our global locations outside of the United States, we encourage you to engage the ethnic and racial healing and unity efforts that are needed where you live. Our prayer is that the spirit of Juneteenth spurs us all on towards making the changes that are still needed in the United States and globally.
Hillsong Global Ethnic and Race Diversity Equity and Inclusion Manager
Maria Hansen-Quine, LASW, MSW
We acknowledge all First Peoples of the beautiful lands on which we live and celebrate their enduring knowledge and connections to Country. We honor the wisdom of and pay respect to Elders past and present.