You are to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread as I commanded you: At the appointed time in the month of Abib you are to eat unleavened bread for seven days, because that was the month you came out of Egypt. Exodus 23:14
On Friday, June 19, African Americans celebrate Juneteenth to commemorate the ending of slavery in the United States. In light of the recent movement to end systemic racism in America, Juneteenth has become more significant to African Americans. Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865, when the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
Juneteenth is equivalent to the exodus of the Jews out of Egypt for African Americans. As a result of June 19, 1865, many African Americans left the US and resettled in Liberia and other African countries. Many of those who stayed in the US migrated to the North for relief from the incessant racism they were forced to endure in the South.
In today’s text, God gives specific instructions to the Israelites to celebrate the date they came out of Egypt. The celebration is called the Festival of Unleavened Bread. In the same way, African Americans must celebrate Juneteenth as their date of independence. They should pause to give praise and honor to the God who set them free from slavery.
This is not a day for bitterness and resentment. It is a day of thanksgiving to the God who broke the yoke of slavery in America and set his black children free from bondage. We must be careful not to let the commemoration of Juneteenth become so politicize as to miss the theological significance of it. Juneteenth is about God’s faithfulness and love for people of African descent. The message it conveys is that God will fight our battles and deliver us from our burdens despite the giant we must face.
Today, the Israelites celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, not as a political statement against Egypt. Rather, as an expression of their faith in the God of their ancestors. Their celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is a statement of their relationship with Almighty God, and their recognition that it was God who set them free.
I think one of the reasons Juneteenth has not historically been celebrated more prominently in America is because American society is still struggling with its history of slavery and does not know how to reconcile its past with his Christian heritage. Even in the Black community, Juneteenth has not been celebrated or even acknowledged in some instances. I think many African Americans forget that it was not the Emancipation Proclamation that set them free from slavery. It was Almighty God. Therefore, African Americans should think of Juneteenth as their Feast of Unleavened Bread.
During the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Israelites were instructed to make special sacrifices each day. They were not to eat anything with leavened, and they are required to read at least six passages in the Torah that emphasize the prohibition of leaven during the feast. “In modern observant Jewish households, preparation for the Passover begins weeks before its arrival. Walls are washed, cooking utensils are scalded, clothing is washed with the pockets turned inside out, carpets are cleaned, and the vacuum bags are then discarded.”
"Ancient rabbis understood leaven to represent the evil impulses of the heart. For Israel, keeping the feast meant a complete separation from the gods, religion, bondage, food, works, and slavery of Egypt." They put away all that was associated with the land of their slavery by putting away the leaven.” There will only be equality and justice in America when this country can separate herself from its slave culture as she takes steps to redress the wrong done to its black citizens.
I am glad to see many mainstream companies and organizations like Duke University, Harvard, and Google, to name a few, declaring categorically that they will honor Juneteenth as a holiday. The commemoration of this monumental event demonstrates the willingness of all America to own up to its failures and to demonstrate gratitude to the God who redeemed this nation from self-destruction and allowed her to prosper despite her failures to repent from her natural sin of slavery.
Prayer- Blessed Lord, on this day, we want to pause to thank you for the redemption grace you have extended to this nation. May we pause on this day to commemorate your faithfulness to these United States of America!