Uniform Lesson for June 19, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Isaiah 49:18-23
One year ago today, the U.S. celebrated Juneteenth as a national holiday for the first time. Back on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, where they read the Emancipation Proclamation and declared that all enslaved persons were free.
Although the good news of freedom did not reach Texas until that June day in 1865, President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, a full 2 ½ years earlier.
Between the signing of that decree and its reading in Texas, the brutal fighting of America’s Civil War continued with blood shed, property destroyed, land taken and retaken and taken again. More than half a million people lost their lives in that uncivil conflict — one side in opposition to slavery, the other in support of it.
The enslaved Black people in Texas had no knowledge of Lincoln’s decree until June 19, 1865. They lived under the brutality of slavery until that momentous day when they heard the news of their deliverance. Yet, they were already free because of what had taken place 2 ½ years before.
God’s promise of freedom and restoration
Today’s passage from Isaiah 49 continues the account of God’s restoration of Israel to their homeland and out of exile and enslavement. Generations of children had been born in those years of exile in Babylon. In these verses, we read the cry of those children for more space, for land, for room to spread out and grow, to settle and make lives of their own. Exile and enslavement were over. It was time for freedom, true freedom.
In response, God promised to lift God’s hand and raise the signal that would prompt “kings” and “their queens,” to bring God’s people and their children back into the land and nurse them, carry them and feed them, restore them and provide for them.
Not only that, but these rulers “shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet.”
In other words, those with the most power would bow down to those with the least power just as those with the least power had been forced to bow down before the rich and powerful.
The Lord God was going to make it happen. The Lord God is still making the last first. The Lord God is still restoring the exiled to their land.
Living the dream
Harriet Tubman is said to have dreamt so vividly one night that she awoke from it, screaming and dancing, “My people are free. My people are free.”
That dream came to her before she had led a single person out of chattel slavery. She had no idea what freedom would look like for them. She didn’t know the many dangers, toils, and snares she would face and overcome as a freedom fighter.
But she got up and set out to make that dream of freedom a reality anyway.
In Harriet Tubman’s dream, her people were already free. So she spent the rest of her days bringing that dream to life.
Like Harriet Tubman, we do not know what freedom will look like or feel like. But, like Harriet Tubman and the people of God in Isaiah’s account, we have the Lord God with us, undergirding our faith in God’s promises and God’s dream of restoration, even though we cannot yet see what a world of freedom, justice, peace, and salvation will look like.
Waiting without shame
In Isaiah 49:23, God foretells that all will know “that I am the Lord; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.” That is a foretelling that Black women hold onto because we have waited for so long – waited for equal pay, waited for equal treatment under the law, waited for our voices to find room and find space – in places like the church, the academy, and magazines like this one. We have waited and we have been treated shamefully — sometimes put to shame.
Because of the tearing down of unjust systems God promised in Isaiah 47, because of the restoration God promised earlier in Isaiah 49,
because of the restoration and reparation that kings and queens promised in today’s passage, freedom no longer has to be merely a dream. The new creation in which we are invited to partner with God is already underway. As Juneteenth reminds us — we are already free.
Who are the people among us who are already free but remain in bondage because we have yet to tell them (or ourselves) the whole truth?