by: Ralen M. Robinson
The hymnist sings with a raspy timber,
“Oh, freedom, Oh, freedom
Oh freedom over me
And before I’d be a slave
I’d be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
These soulful words reverberated throughout the civil rights movement and through generations as the sin of racism was named, bondage dissipated, and equality became accessible for all. Those lyrics were the battle cry for African Americans who sought freedom from the injustices that their black bodies cruelly endured. All people from various hues joined together hand and hand across the United States of America to dismantle prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination.
We are more often familiar with the civil rights movement than with Juneteenth, which occurred 89 years earlier and paved the way for this movement. Eighty-nine years earlier, the final shackle was broken in a small island town of Galveston, Texas, where African Americans finally received the news that they were free after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln two years earlier in 1863. Yet, 1865 marks the historic day when all black bodies were no longer enslaved but had freedom. A freedom that allowed them the ability to move and navigate through this country with their own autonomy. Black bodies had rights over their personhood for the first time in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Juneteenth is a celebration of liberation and freedom for All. So, on this day, June 19th, everyone comes together to stand hand in hand with one another and celebrate the abolishment of slavery.
This day celebrates and commemorates a time in our history when color defined a community. Where the content of someone’s heart was colored by their hue. The year 1865 said no more to the imprisonment of our siblings in Christ, for it was a new era. I joyfully echo the words from the letter of Galatians and say, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” For in God’s kingdom, we are all a part of the beautiful tapestry of the church, which consists of various hues, shapes, sizes, and rough edges.
So, as you look at the stained-glass windows of your church Sunday morning, be reminded that it reflects your neighbor. A neighbor that doesn’t look like you, act like you, vote like you, think like you, talk like you, or subscribe to the same God as you. Love, your neighbor, with no exceptions. Just as Jesus tells us repeatedly that we need to love one another as he does. Do not forget he intentionally sat on the margins to embrace the ones who were ostracized and felt unloved.
If we are called to pick up where Jesus left off and walk in his footsteps, how can we not celebrate the kaleidoscopes of colors within one another? I don’t think it is a mistake that love is mentioned 714 times in the Bible because it is love that prevails and overcomes any hurdle or obstacle thrown our way.
Juneteenth is an opportunity to celebrate and continue to stand with one another and speak out for justice and equality. To bear the burdens of our neighbors when they cannot and proclaim the good news Christ bestowed upon us before he departed this world. A commandment that says in the Gospel of Saint John, “love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” What a powerful and raw commandment. Everyone will know that you are my beloved faithful child, for we are part of a beautiful, diverse, colorful family that loves, cares, and cherishes one another.
So again, I join with the unknown hymnist and say,
Oh, freedom over me!
And before I’d be a slave
I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free.
Freedom that blankets over plains, cities, and the coasts of America. A freedom that encompasses all. So, as we joyously celebrate the Fourth of July with vigor, we too should celebrate Juneteenth.
Ralen M. Robinson is a pastor at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, KS. When she is not pastoring, she is pursuing her DMin in homiletics and doing leadership roles in the greater church. Ralen believes her faith and a good pair of shoes can take you a long way.