Let’s Honor Juneteenth: A Conversation, Some History, and Prayer - Finds.Life.Church

Whether you’re new to learning about Juneteenth, or it’s part of your family heritage, we’re glad you’re engaging in the meaning of this day with the conversation in the video above, some history, and a Juneteenth prayer.

Juneteenth honors one day of freedom in history, but it also reminds us of many emancipation days and all of the people whose years of courage and suffering helped end the sin of slavery in America. Let’s pray this Juneteenth stands as a day to honor the victories won, and let’s press on following the way of Jesus to dismantle injustice and pursue freedom for all people (Luke 4:14-21).

What’s the History of Juneteenth?

While many believe the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in America, it was another two and a half years before most of the people being held as slaves in the South were set free, due to the end of the Civil War in April 1865. The end of the Civil War, however, didn’t mean liberty and justice for everyone

In some cases, news traveled slow. In others, states just resisted giving up slavery. Months after the war was over, people made in God’s image were still being held as slaves. Juneteenth commemorates the day when Union troops reached Galveston Bay in Texas on June 19, 1865, and issued an order declaring “all slaves are free” with “absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property.” 

Even this order didn’t mean freedom for everyone, though. There were still parts of the country where slavery remained legal until the 13th Amendment was ratified in December 1865, nearly 250 years after the beginning of slavery in America. In June of 2021, the United States Congress passed legislation with overwhelming support to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

How Has Juneteenth Been Celebrated?

Black Americans and Black churches have celebrated Juneteenth for more than 150 years under the names of Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day. The first official Juneteenth celebrations started in 1866, a year after freedom came to Galveston Bay. The tradition of celebrating on June 19 initially gained traction in Texas where historically Black churches held community gatherings with great food, music, and readings to celebrate freedom and Black art, business, and culture. 

Most commonly, celebrations have included the singing of spirituals—songs with moving biblical lyrics like those from the hymn Lift Every Voice and Sing. Here’s a beautiful portion from this hymn.

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,

’Til earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the list’ning skies,

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,

Let us march on ’til victory is won.

Today, celebrations look like everything from city-wide art festivals to state-declared holidays, close-knit family meals, and community prayer marches. People who regularly recognize the holiday appreciate that it hasn’t lost its original meaning to become an empty excuse to throw a party. Juneteenth reminds us of the perseverance the past has taught us and the hope that can fuel us as we continue marching on. 

How We Can Pray on Juneteenth?

The history before and after the first Juneteenth reminds us how Jesus followers can learn to recognize and repair injustices. Prayer is a powerful way to invite ourselves into God’s plans for both.

As you lift up this Juneteenth prayer, thank God for the ways He partnered with people to end the sin of slavery, and then ask Him to show you how you can partner with Him to both celebrate and also live out His love and justice today.

Let’s pray. 

God, thank You for making us in Your image to be Your reflection in this world. 
Forgive us for every way we break the picture of You in our lives. 
Thank You for setting our people, our country, and our relatives free from the bondage of slavery. 
Will You show us how to live out Your love today as we celebrate the hope of freedom?
Will You help us work to right the wrongs so many face that still grieve Your heart today?
Thank You, Jesus—You’re our picture and power for restoration in our world. 
Holy Spirit, give us eyes to see and the will to work for godly justice where we live. 
Amen. 

How Can Someone New to Juneteenth Honor the Tradition?

For people who haven’t known about Juneteenth, or who haven’t known how to honor it in the past, there are meaningful ways you can engage this year. Here are some ideas. 

Happy Juneteenth.