There are no additional words on my calendar today. No addition words to alert me to the notion that the 19th of June carries any special meaning for anyone at all. According to the calendar on my wall today is nothing more than any other Friday in the summer of 2020, and no different than any other day of the week.
It was 7 years ago, if my memory serves me correctly, that I first heard of the term 'Juneteenth.' Growing up it was not a term that I knew. It was never spoken of as an event to be celebrated or an event to be ignored. Even in elementary school this day was never pointed to. And I only say that because the school I attend for most of my elementary education was 80-90% African American depending on the grade level. But 7 years ago I learned that today is something more than any other day in June. Today is a day that points to freedom.
I can remember years back the first time I spent the fourth of July outside of the United States. For everyone around me it was just another Wednesday that meant the the work week was not over half finished. I walked into a local pub to grab a drink and remember excitedly telling the gentleman next to me "Happy 4th of July." There was only a slight puzzled look and a joking cheers to summer Wednesdays.
I wanted someone to celebrate with me a day that held significance to me. I wanted to feel slightly less alone when I was thousands of miles from home. Luckily I was in Ireland and the 4th of July being a celebration of defeating the British was enough to make an Irishman happy. But what if I had been somewhere else. What if I had been somewhere where there was no connection between me and those who sat in the pub around me.
Though I am unqualified to feel the full weight of this day, much like an Irishman seeking July 4th on his calendar, I can still press in and seek to celebrate with my brothers and sisters. After all, we as Americans area a culture that is known for finding reasons to celebrate.
In the letter to the Romans, St. Paul calls for those of the faith to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. (Rom. 12:15) And in the Church this is not something that we are great at doing. I believe that we have fallen victim to the spirit of the age that says that when someone else moves ahead that must mean that we are further behind. We have started to believe our own savior complex that makes us the focus of someone's pain, this is why after a funeral people flood around those who are hurting and leave them with silence a week later.
And I am no different. But I want to be. I want to be able to celebrate with those who are celebrating. And I want to be able to weep with those who are weeping. And today seems to be an occasion for doing both with our brothers and sisters.
But doing so is hard. Doing so requires pressing in and listening, not just waiting for our chance to talk. To celebrate with someone we have to know what has caused them joy. To weep means that we have to press in and feel their pain. And this is something else that I wish I was better at. It's another area that I wish I looked more like Jesus than I do.
The more I learn and the older I grow I think that one of the large reasons that this is so lacking in the Church is because we who make her up don't fully understand the gospel.
For the gospel speaks that for those in Christ there is now no longer any reason that we should separate by race, creed, or color other than the race of Holy Priests we have become, the creed of Christ alone-by grace alone-through faith alone, and no color but the red blood that poured down on Calvary's ground. We have forgotten that Christ himself turned away his own mother and brothers and told them that his family were those who belonged to His Father. (Matt 12:46-50) We have loved sermons on the Church being a body (1 Cor. 12:20-27), but fail to realize that means everyone who calls on the name of Christ...not just the ones who sound like us when they do. After all, Christianity is a religion that lives or dies on the promise of freedom. And who the Son's sets free, God have mercy on those who try to once again enslave.
Maybe this is just me taking a long walk for a short drink of water. Because at the end of it all I just want to say Happy Juneteenth to anyone who has felt the weight of chains fall. Maybe as a white I'm the wrong one to wish it, or maybe the answer is that it's wrong that more more white guys aren't.
Photo: Head-and-shoulders portraits of Blanche Kelso Bruce, Frederick Douglass and others by J. Hoover, 1881 | Taken from the Public Domain in the Library of Congress Archives