Juneteenth: The Already and the Not Yet
The Already and the Not Yet. This was a phrase impressed upon me during one of my earliest seminary classes where we explored and unpacked the history and layered meanings behind many of our Christian rituals and practices. This phrase encapsulates a particular sense of time, where the stories of the pas and the reality of the present cannot be separated from a future infused with hope.
To me, this phrase – the already and the not yet – captures the significance of Juneteenth for Black Americans, whose freedom from slavery have begun but is not yet finished.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and proclaimed freedom for all enslaved peoples. This was two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln, making Texas the last state to abolish slavery. Yet, many of us are learning and re-learning now the ways in which the system of enslavement has manifested in other ways. (And I recognize my privilege in that I am learning, rather than experiencing, this reality.)
As the Presbyterian Historical Society reminds us, “Practices like sharecropping, lynching, and targeted law enforcement allowed the peculiar institution to continue on in many forms well past the ratification of the 13th Amendment.” Even as Juneteenth is celebrated and commemorated by Black Americans as the end of their enslavement in this country, today I am acutely aware that true liberation has yet to be experienced by all of us, but particularly by Black individuals and communities.
In this past Sunday’s sermon, the Rev. Dr. Sarah Johnson beautifully reminded us of the interconnectedness of this present reality with the ancient stories of our faith:
These days, it is impossible to peer into scripture’s stories of slavery and freedom, and God’s desire to work with us and through us, without connecting them to the larger unfolding narrative of bondage and freedom currently present in our common life as country and as a church. It is impossible to escape the reality that, perhaps more than ever, we find ourselves on the precipice between places of bondage and places of freedom.
As a part of our unfolding journey as God’s beloved people and our commitment to pursuing racial justice and equity as a church, on this Juneteenth, the carillon in our steeple will ring nineteen times to symbolize the already and the not yet.
As the bells ring, may we see the collective trauma of Black Americans with God’s compassion.
As the bells ring, may we be strengthened in our efforts to journey with God’s beloved people beyond bondage and towards our freedom.