A cold wind blew through a gathering of people. Men and women, black and white, free and slaves stood together and listened as the Emancipation Proclamation was read. It announced a shift in the legal identity of slaves held in Confederate States. From that day on, the United States government declared these men and women to be permanently free. As the gathering cheered, Frederick Douglass took the stage and led the gathering in singing his favorite hymn, Charles Wesley’s “Blow Ye The Trumpet Blow”:
Blow ye the trumpet, blow!
The gladly solemn sound
let all the nations know,
to Earth’s remotest bound:
Jesus, our great high priest,
hath full atonement made;
ye weary spirits, rest;
ye mournful souls, be glad.
Ye slaves of sin and hell,
your liberty receive,
and safe in Jesus dwell,
and blest in Jesus live
The year of jubilee is come!
The year of jubilee is come!
Return, ye ransomed sinners, home.
To anyone who heard Lincoln’s Proclamation and listened to Wesley’s hymn, the concept of the year of Jubilee and the new wave of freedom must have hit close to home. Fredrick Douglass’s joining of this historic event with the atoning work of Jesus Christ revealed the connection between God’s redemption of human nature from the slavery to sin and the release of people of color from social, political and economic bondage and the evil of the institution of slavery, for both were dehumanizing, marring the image of God stamped into every human being.
Christ came to restore our humanity, to remake human nature and emancipate us from its corruption. But that most essential and fundamental liberation from a corruption at the core of our being was to lead us to bear witness in all our relationships, personal and public, social and economic, to that liberating work that revitalizes our humanity. While, thankfully, none of us live under the horrific conditions of pre-Civil War slavery, all of us still require the revealing, reconciling and atoning work of Christ, which alone can penetrate to the core of our natures, enslaved to self, to pride, captive of the power of sin and the threat of death.
But through the miracle of our Lord’s incarnation, his entering into our human condition and putting on our fallen natures, he broke our chains and ransomed us out of death, regenerating human nature that we might share in what he accomplished for us. Because of Christ’s great atoning sacrifice, we have now, as Charles Wesley writes, been given our liberty, safe to dwell in Christ and ransomed from our sin, free to return home. We are free in him, our Creator and Redeemer.
As we celebrate Black History month in our GCI congregations, I pray we can all join together in thanksgiving for the Emancipation Proclamation, and also together join in Christ’s continuing ministry to restore to every human being their true humanity, founded and fulfilled in the person and atoning work of Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior.
I’m Joseph Tkach, Speaking of LIFE.