Bishop Susan Goff delivered this reflection during the Juneteenth: Freedom Day celebration at St. Peter's and St. John's churches in Richmond on June 19, 2021. Juneteenth became an official national holiday known as Juneteenth National Independence Day by law on June 17, 2021.
“In Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.”
Thanks be to God for this promise that God continues to fulfill in our midst! Thanks be to God that we gather today on the first Juneteenth National Holiday!
Thank you, Dorothy and Amelie, for hosting this event. Thank you, all who have been a part of the planning, part of the leadership and part of this congregation. Thank you for inviting me to share in this time. It is an honor and a blessing.
Because today we remember. Today we celebrate. Today we tell the truth.
I share my perspectives on these three actions as a white woman who has benefitted from white privilege, and as Bishop of this Diocese in this time of so much hope and change in our communities.
Today we remember.
We remember the lives of at least 12 million men, women and children who were violently stolen from their homes in Africa and cruelly brought to the Western Hemisphere during four centuries of the transatlantic slave trade.
We remember the people, made in the image of God, who were stripped of their identity and made into commodities.
We remember the children torn from their mother’s arms.
We remember their suffering.
We remember their faith, their love, their humanity, their godliness.
We remember because we dare not lose our own humanity by denying and forgetting theirs.
Today we remember that it was 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation before slaves and slave holders in Texas finally heard the news of freedom. News travels much more quickly these days. We get news as it is happening. We hear good news the moment it is announced. We see assaults and acts of hatred or injustice at the very moment they are being committed.
The immediacy of what we see increases the pain, making it more urgent, making our ache to respond more pressing. The same immediacy can also numb some of us to horror when we witness it day after day.
So we remember because we dare not succumb to numbness and complacency.
We remember names and faces and stories.
We remember that every human being is God’s beloved, made in the image of God.
We remember, and the remembering is part of the healing of the great wound in the soul of America, the wound in the soul of the world.
Today we celebrate.
We celebrate the joy that enslaved men and women and children felt when they were finally set free. Oh, the dancing there must have been! Oh, the sighing and the singing! Oh, the tears and the sleeping soundly through the night!
We celebrate and give thanks that everyone, everyone, everyone without exception is made in the image of God and is beloved of God.
We celebrate that God takes sides in this world. The Biblical witness shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that God sides with the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the enslaved, with orphans and little children, with the most vulnerable in any place and time. God takes sides to build up and heal and restore, to set the captives free. God takes sides, and the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians become more and more true, that “In Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for all . . . are one in Christ Jesus.”
We celebrate and give thanks for the commitment of women and men who poured themselves out over the course of decades to bring an end to slavery, for the commitment of women and men who poured themselves out to gain civil rights for all who live in this land, for the commitment of women and men who still pour themselves out as they take their part in God’s work of healing and justice.
We celebrate today, because joy is part of the healing of the great wound in the soul of America, the wound in the soul of the world.
Today we tell the truth.
We tell the truth that slavery was an atrocity, a horror beyond our imagining. The owning of one human by another human being is abhorrent; it is an affront to God in whose image every human begin is made.
We tell the truth about how slavery was abolished, a complex story full of commitment and machinations. Actions were not always taken for Godly reasons by people who were products of their time. And yet God worked in and through them for God’s purposes finally to be accomplished.
We tell the truth that the soul of America is ruptured because of slavery. Not just the souls of descendants of slaves or the souls of descendants of slave owners, but the soul of our nation.
And we tell the truth that healing is possible, because healing is God’s intention for all people in all the world. We tell the truth that justice is possible, because God is God of justice and God works through us, even here and even now, to bring about justice in the world.
We tell the truth today because truth telling is part of the healing of the great wound in the soul of America, the wound in the soul of the world.
As we sing and pray today, as we listen and as we march together,
We tell the truth.
Because as we do these things, we take our part in God’s work of healing this beautiful, broken, aching, hurting, wondrous world.