Psalm 78:1-8 (Inclusive Translation, adapted)
My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from of old-the things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We won’t hide them from our children, we will tell the next generation. We’ll tell them of your praiseworthy deeds, YHWH, your power, and the wonders you have performed. You set up statutes for our forebears, and established the Law in Israel, which you commanded our ancestors to teach their children so the next generation would know them-children yet to be born-and as they come up, they would tell their own children. Then they would put their trust in you and not forget your deeds, but keep your commandments—unlike their ancestors.
Juneteenth (short for June nineteenth) recognizes the declaration that all enslaved shall be set free. It has been called the “longest running African-American holiday” or “America’s second Independence Day.” While emancipation from a life of slavery is most certainly cause for celebration, the narrative that follows the formerly enslaved and the next generations is not a continuation of the joyful festivities. Rather, it marks the beginning of a system of oppression of Black (and other People of Color) in this country that continues today.
While the 13th Amendment no longer forced the African Diaspora into lives of slavery, they were not and are not granted the freedom and opportunity the Constitution gives to people of European decent (White men). Immediately, efforts began to disenfranchise those newly declared citizens, efforts that are literally being played out across America, right now. The controversy surrounding what has been and is taught in American schools around history and race are boiling over. Almost 200 years later, this country is still finding new ways to deny the agency of BIPoC communities.
The psalmist laments this very thing. America has not told the truth about the history of this country, we have hidden it from the next generation. We have not listened to what our ancestors of Color have tried to tell us. We have not listened to all of God’s people and heard the teachings. We have not followed God’s Law. We have not told the whole story throughout the generations. How then, can the generations to come learn to keep the commandments and not make the same mistakes our ancestors made? First, we must all acknowledge the truth of race in American and commit to stop hiding it from our children. It is only then we can all live fully in the freedom granted in the Constitution and more importantly, in God’s Law.
As we mark this day, we are grateful for the liberation you have already given. We thank you for the freedom given through the gift of grace. We pray for confidence in your forgiveness, that our hearts may be opened to acknowledge and reconcile the truth of racism.
We pray for change. Change the easy peace we make with ourselves into discontent because of the oppression of others. Change our tendency to defend ourselves into the freedom that comes from being forgiven and empowered through your love. Change our need for disguises, excuses, and images into the ability to be honest with ourselves and open with one another. Change our inclination to judge others into a desire to serve and uplift others. And most of all, change our routine faith into genuine encounters with you and our better selves so that our lives will be changed for the good of all, letting us give ourselves to one another in a joyful, liberated community of justice and peace.
May it be so.