From a Bishop's Desk

A series of opinion articles and essays from bishop's of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and ecumenical partners.


Juneteenth: When Does A Holiday become A Holy Day?

Jun 16, 2022


God’s grace and peace be with you, dear ones.


I know I have said this before, and I am not the only one, but these are tough times. There is so much change around us. Change, while often a sign of progress, can still be scary and unsettling. I recently read that what we fear is not so much change as it is loss. Any change to something new means the loss of that which was familiar (though, we must remind ourselves, not always good). And the more changes we face, the more of a tendency there is, both in our individual and communal (local, national, church, etc.) lives, to react and reject. Ours is a time of unprecedented change. There is mostly unconscious pressure to reject all change, even to retreat to an earlier time that, in reality, we cannot recover.


As disciples of Jesus desiring, through prayer, worship, and spiritual practice (to live like Christ in our communities), we know that God’s call to us is always forward. We know that the Christian journey is into the future and, ultimately, to that glorious reunion with God that Jesus promises. We cannot go back and, in faith, do not want to.


I would suggest to you that any experience that moves us in a “Godward” direction, or reminds us that we are heaven-bound, is holy. Juneteenth is more than a new federal holiday, but one whose origin dates to 1865. It is both new and not at all new. It commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Black people here in the United States, a work begun and far from finished as we understand that the systemic oppression of our Black siblings, of which slavery was the most horrific expression, is a daily reality in our country. As those who are called to be “little Christs” (to use Martin Luther’s words) to our neighbors, to see the face of Jesus, particularly in the oppressed, it is my hope and prayer that we can see Juneteenth as more than a holiday. As a challenge and opportunity, we can see it isholy day, one that invites us into deeper, active discipleship for the sake of those for whom Christ died.


We have a lot of work to do. Recent events in our churchbody, the ELCA, reminds us of the tendency of some of us to behave out of white supremacy to the real harm of others. No journey of faith begins without taking that first step and then the one after that. As we commemorate Juneteenth, I encourage you to take a focused look at your own behaviors and attitudes. Hearing the call of God to a holy life, how can you challenge yourself and others, in a loving but fearless way, to grow more and more into the image of Christ? We are working on that together as the people of God, prioritizing the struggle for racial justice in our lives, congregations, communities, and synod.


Juneteenth is more than a holiday. It is a holy day because, in its commemoration, we hear the voice of Jesus calling us to change and progress in a life of grace for the sake of all God’s people, including ourselves.


May God’s Holy Spirit continue to guide us with courage.


Yours in the Risen Christ and the Empowering Spirt,

Bishop Egensteiner