Already and Not Yet: A Reflection for Juneteenth
by Chuck and Barbara Blaisdell
It is commonly (and correctly) observed that Christians are to live between “the already” and “the not yet.” That is, in Christ we have been shown that God is a God of unconditional love for each and all and that that love cannot and will not be defeated even by death. But that Good News is also “not yet,” for too many people still do not know of that God but only the lesser gods of jugmentalism and self-justification. Likewise, too many people are also denied the justice that is also God’s expectation for each and every creature God has made. If all we knew was “the already” then that would be a license for complacency and smugness. If all we knew was “the not yet,” then it would be hard not to despair in a world where too much evil is perpetrated upon the innocent, where women can be assaulted and then re-assaulted in the courtroom and the press while their attackers go unpunished, where terrified children suffer and die on the shores of distant oceans and nearby sidewalks because of mean-spirited fears.
Today is Juneteenth. In some ways it is the American civic analogue of the theology of “already/not yet.” Too many white Americans may not yet know the story: on June 19, 1865, a military commander announced to the people of Galveston and the state of Texas that those who had been enslaved were free. Just as with too many who don’t yet know a God of love for all people, the word of emancipation came late; Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had been effected on January 1, 1863. But then, as too often nowadays too, Texas was a latecomer to to “God’s truth is marching on.”
Juneteenth, then, is the celebration of what has been done – that in the eyes of the United States of America there is to be no caste by race, no subjugation of one color to another, no human being ever to own another human being again. That has been accomplished. But, of course, Juneteenth is also “not yet” — the great historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr., points out in detail that is heartening and painful just how the message of Juneteenth both spread and was resisted by both overt racists and those who think that racism is a thing of the past. Every American should learn more of the meaning of Juneteenth and give thanks for “the already” and be spurred to make “the not yet” an ever-nearer reality.
The message of Juneteenth is also a powerful portent, promise, and prod to Americans to make its “not yet” ever more a reality for every religion, race, class, and orientation. America still has too far to go in living out that promise as we mourn today a child murdered virtually in sight of the Capitol simply for being a Muslim. We hear voices of Muslim American children who have learned and cherish the American dream in a way that ought both inspire and shame us.
The prophet Isaiah, himself announcing “the not yet,” foresaw a day when “a little child will lead them.” May that day be now, as the voices of those Muslim children remind us of who we are called to be and as the celebration of Juneteenth reminds us that we are called to be one people, under God, with liberty and justice for all, for all.
May it be so, sooner than later.
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