Almighty God, you rescued your people from slavery in Egypt, and throughout the ages you have never failed to hear the cries of the captives; We remember before you our sisters and brothers in Galveston, Texas who on this day received the glad tidings of their emancipation; Forgive us for the many grave sins that delayed that liberating word; Anoint us with your Spirit to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Collect for Juneteenth, from Juneteenth Liturgy, compiled by the Vivian Traylor Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians. https://faithinformed.org/resources/juneteenth-liturgy
This Sunday, June 19th, the second Sunday after Pentecost, is also Juneteenth, our newest federally recognized holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the end of the practice of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865 Union troops arrived in Galveston, TX and announced emancipation and the end of the Civil War, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued and two months after the war had ended. (You can read more about the history of June 19th, 1865 in the links below.)
In the collect for Juneteenth (above), we pray to do three things: to remember our siblings in Christ who received news of their emancipation on June 19, 1865; to ask forgiveness for the sins that delayed “that liberating word;” and, anointed with the Spirit, to share God’s liberating Good News with the world.
It can be easy to view historical events as far away and locked in the past (though emancipation and the end of the Civil War happened less than 200 years ago). But historical legacies remain with us and in us and all around us every day. Think of the ways that legacies of slavery, in the form of systemic racism and anti-Blackness, have segregated our city. Think of the importance of celebrating the histories and legacies of Black Americans, continuing to tell stories of life and joy as part of the fabric of our national heritage. History, what and how we remember the past, impacts who we are and know ourselves to be today.
The Church is a body that has experience connecting our contemporary lives to events in the past. Each year as part of our liturgical calendar we re-tell the stories of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, along with stories from Hebrew Scripture and the Epistles. We do not live in Ephesus, but we revisit the letters Paul wrote to the Ephesians and wonder about their lives. You and I may not have been present at the Last Supper, but we re-member it – faces gathered around a shared table, breaking bread – as we share a meal, wash each other’s feet, and strip the altar on Maundy Thursday. This is part of the power of Baptism and Eucharist: we participate in actions that span the vastness of Christian history, connecting us with all who have gone before and all who come after, suspended with them in a moment out of time while still present in our world. How we remember the past impacts who we are and know ourselves to be today.
This is just as true in our prayers. When I pray the collect for Juneteenth, I pray for the people who heard of their freedom on June 19th, 1865. But I am also compelled to remember that liberation and freedom have not arrived for all persons in our society, and my prayers turn to those still suffering oppression and injustice today. I pray to be forgiven for the ways that I have delayed that Good News of liberation or prevented it, through what I have done and what I have left undone. And I pray that, anointed by the Spirit, I can act “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of [God’s] favor.” This is what we are called to through Christ, not just Juneteenth but every day, in every time.
I wonder, what Good News will you proclaim this year?
For more information on the history of Juneteenth, check out this article from 2013 by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: https://www.theroot.com/what-is-juneteenth-1790896900 (TW: there are some graphic descriptions of racist violence) or, if you’re sharing with a high school audience, here’s a great 2021 article from Jameelah Nasheed at Teen Vogue: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/juneteenth-celebration-meaning-explainer.
You can find the full Juneteenth Liturgy, excerpted above, here: https://faithinformed.org/resources/juneteenth-liturgy.