Jesus, Passover, and Juneteenth
Today, June 19, marks Juneteenth, marking the formal end of African-American slavery in the United States. Or more precisely, that day in 1865 when Union General Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and informed the enslaved African Americans there that they were free and that the Civil War was finally won. This was more than two years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on New Year's Day, 1863. So even this day was a dream deferred. As we know, the struggle for justice and equality in this country has been long and difficult and still not complete. But, as Dr. King once said, "We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."
Passover is the celebration of the liberation of biblical Israel from slavery and by extension our liberation from sin and bondage itself. Jesus, the ultimate Passover Lamb, is crucified on Passover after taking the Passover meal the night before, a long-time commemoration of liberation of the people. In his redeemed humanity, drawn from an historically oppressed people, Jesus is the Suffering Servant who, "will bring justice to the nations" (Isaiah 42:2) “and he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth” (verse 4).
The enslaved people in America who sang “Go Down Moses” did not need reminding of what slavery was like in Egypt. In the message of Jesus Christ, they saw a Jesus that provided liberation of the soul in the midst of the struggle to abolish slavery. The waters they went through were not the Red Sea, but perhaps the rivers and streams on the routes of the Underground Railroad, chased by slave trackers' dogs like Pharaoh's chariots. So African-American liberation and the Exodus story are connected in our spiritual history. The slaves knew that Jesus, fully aware of the slavery in his heritage, would redeem the suffering of black slaves and they worshipped this Savior, even through the long journey of Jim Crow, segregation and violent oppression, sadly often brought upon by other Christians.
This year, we recognize that the struggle for true spiritual freedom and racial and ethnic equity in our community is a continuing journey, one we are committed to and in which our congregation has already taken its place in being Christ’s instrument for transformation by going out in the community as an instrument of Christ’s grace and reconciliation. We will also keep our hearts and eyes open for other ways the Holy Spirit wants to use us to fulfill his justice over sin and division. From Isaiah 58:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.