Easter is a special time of year. It is congruent with the beginning of spring; a time when life returns to the earth- crops are sown, the next generation of animals is born, and the trees and flowers bloom. Spring and Easter remind us that we can expect good days after bad, green after brown, and life after death. Easter brings hope of our return to our Heavenly Father one day.
“Comfort Ye My People”
None of us are perfect-yet. Our mortal quest is to make our way towards perfection- to become complete. The journey through mortality offers many trials and challenges- some come because of our poor judgement (called sin). Through these challenges and trials, we can trust our Heavenly Parents to reach out to us in perfect love to comfort us and give us strength. Isaiah gave us this wonderful passage of scripture: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.” It is a promise that all is not lost. It is a promise that God loves us. That we can take comfort in a plan of hope. As we begin to see the new growth in the spring, we are able to commemorate the sacrifice and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We remember how He experienced our suffering- no matter how it happened so he could know how to help us. What greater comfort can we have than that?
“And He Shall Purify”
From the beginning, there was a plan in place to rescue us in our time of need. We were not left alone to wade through our challenges. A Saviour was provided by our Heavenly Father so that we can repent and return to the covenant path that we are meant to tread. Abinadi, as he was teaching King Noah and his priests, quoted Isaiah’s description of the Saviour: “we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all.” Jesus came to earth to offer us an escape from the consequences of sin through repentance.We can be cleansed from our sins.
Abinadi shared more of Isaiah’s words about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ:
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; […] Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he waswoundedfor our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Mosiah 14: 3-5)
The Atonement that Jesus performed for us allows us the opportunity to return to righteousness after making mistakes. The one phrase that should be explored is “the chastisement of our peace was upon him.” There is no more beautiful phrase for love. He suffered pain- both physical and mental- so that we could find and be at peace. This chastisement was for our benefit, that we might, through His suffering and His grace which follows be free of the darkness which follows sin. Our hope for peace is made sure through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
“Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs”
Jesus did this alone. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said: “I speak of the loneliest journey ever made and the unending blessings it brought to all in the human family. I speak of the Savior’s solitary task of shouldering alone the burden of our salvation. Rightly He would say: “I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me. … I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold [me].” This action that Jesus undertook was the hardest thing that has been done on this earth. He searched for strength and help but no one was able to give it to Him. He alone of all of God’s children could step in and through His suffering understand the anguish and sorrow of all mankind. He could do it because He is the Only Begotten of the Father. The only perfect person to ever live, He was uniquely qualified to serve as our link to divine mercy.
Elder James E. Talmage described the events in the Garden of Gethsemane in his book “Jesus the Christ.” After taking Peter, James, and John to a different part of the garden from the other apostles “He was impelled to deny Himself the companionship of even the chosen three; and, “Saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” The suffering was such that an angel was sent to strengthen Jesus but even with this help He was still wracked with anguish in His soul. “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
The suffering in the garden opened the way for us to repent. Taking upon Him the suffering for our mistakes in that garden gave him the ability to know how to succour us in our times of need. His selfless act opened the way for mercy to be applied to us- we can return to live in the presence of our Heavenly Father again.
“And with His Stripes”
Once the suffering in the garden was complete, Jesus was betrayed into the hands of the leadership of the Jews who wished to see him dead. He was passed from Caiaphas- the High Priest, and Annas- the previous High Priest, to Pontius Pilate- Roman governor of Judaea, to Herod- Tetrarch of Galilee, and finally, back to Pilate.
The Jews wanted judgement on Jesus for His supposed blasphemy- claiming to be the Son of God. They wanted Him dead. Pilate met with Jesus and determined that He had done nothing wrong. He told those gathered that he found Jesus to be guilty of nothing and wished to release Him. Still the Jews pressed Pilate- threatening to tell Caesar of how Pilate had done wrong to the Jews ("Jesus the Christ" note 7 Ch. 34). So, Pilate sent Jesus to be scourged. He was whipped, beaten, and given a crown of thorns. One last time Pilate pleaded for the Jews to not call for Jesus’ death. He hoped that Jesus' bruised and broken body would persuade them to back down. However, they rebuffed his exhortation and Pilate relented, sending Jesus to His death
Even though Jesus was hung on the cross- nailed in place- He still wished to do good. In that painful position he made sure that His mother would be taken care of, asking John to watch after her. He also gave hope to the humble malefactor who had accepted his fate for a life of crime that he would be with Jesus. The most miraculous thing He did before giving up the ghost was to forgive His executioners. He asked that they not be charged with the sin of killing an innocent man. He pled to the Father for them that they be forgiven. Would any of us be able to forgive our enemies like that?
Elder Holland explains what happened next. “Now I speak very carefully, even reverently, of what may have been the most difficult moment in all of this solitary journey to Atonement. I speak of those final moments for which Jesus must have been prepared intellectually and physically but which He may not have fully anticipated emotionally and spiritually—that concluding descent into the paralyzing despair of divine withdrawal when He cries in ultimate loneliness, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Elder Holland emphatically states that the Father was never closer to His Son than at this time but that it was necessary for the Atonement to be “as complete as it was voluntary and solitary.” Support from Heavenly Father was briefly removed so that “this perfect Son who had never spoken ill nor done wrong nor touched an unclean thing had to know how the rest of humankind—us, all of us—would feel when we did commit such sins.” Alma, when speaking to the people in Gideon, explained that the Atonement was not just for sins but that,
“He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”
For Jesus to truly know how to succour his people, He had to experience all that we experience.
After His suffering on the cross, He gave up the ghost and departed this world. Luke tells of darkness and the veil of the temple being rent in twain. A soldier expressed that Jesus must surely have been the Son of God. As another sign of Jesus death, the Nephites and Lamanites experienced a cataclysm that included fires, floods, and earthquakes that consumed cities, and even whirlwinds that carried people off.
The Jews knew of Jesus’s prophecies of returning from the dead and did what they could to stop His supporters from taking His body away and claiming he rose from the dead. They placed a guard and a heavy stone in front of the tomb he was buried in- surely this would dissuade them. At this point the Jews figured that with Jesus gone, everything of His would fall apart and everyone would get back to normal. How wrong they were. With the death of the Saviour only part of the Atonement was complete. The suffering to understand the bitterness of sins, pains, afflictions, and sicknesses was taken care of but the last hurdle- death- had yet to be cleared.
“But Thou Didst Not Leave His Soul in Hell”
What happened after Jesus died and was buried? In Judaea, the Apostles were in a state of doubt and fear. They did not know what was going to happen next. What were they to do now that Jesus was gone? Was there anything to do with what he taught them? What was to become of their brotherhood? Were they going to be killed just as He was?
In the Americas, the Nephites and Lamanites were suffering through their calamity. They had experienced earthquakes, fires, floods, and whirlwinds that killed many of their friends and family. Now, they were dealing with thick vapours of darkness that were so thick that they could not even light a candle. While the darkness prevailed over the land, they heard the voice of Jesus Christ and He taught them that He would gather them and protect them. He also taught them that the Law of Moses was fulfilled. Even though most people in their societies had turned away from the gospel, Jesus was still willing and wanting to gather them and bring them home to the fold. Isaiah powerfully illustrates this when he said that the Saviour has “graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” Every time He looks at His hands, He sees us.
Just like all who die, Jesus went to the Spirit World. He spent His time there organizing and preparing the spirits of the righteous to teach those who did not have the opportunity to hear or did not embrace the gospel in their mortal life. He laboured to begin the missionary work necessary for all to hear His voice.
Jesus did not die never to return. It was an essential part of His ministry and the Atonement that He would rise again. With His resurrection the bands of death would be broken, and all would be able to regain their bodies for eternity.
"Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they [Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus] came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen…” (Luke 24:1-6)
Hallelujah! Christ was risen! He broke the bands of death. He suffered, died, and rose again so that we could have the opportunity to return to our Heavenly Father as resurrected beings. No more would we have to fear the grave or our mortal frailties. We had a path open to us for forgiveness. We now have a Saviour who knows us and loves us so well he can personally strengthen and guide us in our mortal journey.
Pope Francis called the resurrection of Jesus Christ the “Contagion of Hope” . Because Christ is risen, we have been found in the wilderness and returned to the fold. One mistake does not preclude us from heaven- we are able to look to Christ and as we repent and strive to do better we can return. It is up to us to heed His voice and come home with Him. Pope Francis also said: “We would not have the courage to believe in a God who loves humanity, if we had not known Jesus. What kind of God is prepared to die for people? What kind of God loves always and patiently, without demanding to be loved in return?” Because Jesus came to earth, performed the Atonement, and rose again we can have the courage to believe in a God who loves us.
With the resurrection of the Lord, the Apostles regained their hope and began their missionary efforts to teach the world about Jesus Christ. They moved across the Roman Empire spreading the gospel and converting many (see the book of Acts in the New Testament). The Nephites and Lamanites were all converted to the gospel through the teachings of Jesus and the missionary work of the Twelve Disciples and the other members of the church. They lived in peace for two hundred years after the visit of Jesus and were able to live as one Zion-like society (see 4th Nephi in the Book of Mormon). The righteous dead began their missionary work to those who did not know Christ and still do that work today.
“Since by Man Came Death”
Because of the Fall, we were all cut off from the presence of our Heavenly Father. Since we are imperfect, we cannot return to His presence in that state. We needed a Saviour who was perfect and able to prepare a way to make it possible for us to return.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we have responsibilities to help those around us stay on the covenant path. Every Sunday we have the opportunity to partake of the Sacrament wherein we renew and recommit to the covenants we have made. We pledge to help those who need it. We mourn with them and comfort them. We promise to be witnesses of Christ in all things and in all places. We promise to do as the Saviour did.
To uphold these promises and covenants we have been organized as Ministers to visit and keep in close contact with the other members of our wards. Ministering is more than “Hi, how are you?”- it is the true love and concern for our friends within the church. James, the apostle calls this true religion. We are to share the gospel and live the gospel with those we Minister to. Our efforts at ministering will help our fellow church members feel the love of God and the enabling power of the Atonement.
Of course, if we only ministered to those within the church, we would be missing out on doing what the Saviour did- ministering to those who have not yet received the blessings of the gospel. Commonly, we call this missionary work. When we were baptized, we promised to be witnesses of Christ at all times, in all things and in all places (see Mosiah 18:8-10). Our call is to share the gospel with our friends and neighbours- encouraging them to hear what can give them great happiness. We are also encouraged to be mindful of them- that we can help them in their struggles and lift them up when they are down. As we do missionary work and our Ministering, we are, figuratively, the hands of Jesus Christ.
A third significant way we minister is through Temple and Family History Work. As noted above, Jesus organized the righteous dead to teach those who did not know the gospel in their mortal lives. Once that work was begun, there has been the opportunity for members of the church to preform the ordinances of salvation by proxy for them in temples. Temple work done by us is the only way that our kindred dead can receive the saving ordinances. We have the responsibility to care for our ancestors and share with them the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of covenants. Malachi warned us all that if we do not live up to our responsibilities to our ancestors the earth will be smitten with a course. Without our help, the teaching they receive in the Spirit World will not mean much.
Moroni spoke about how the church was organized in his day by telling us that everyone who joined the church had their name written down so they would be remembered and ministered to according to their needs (Moroni 6:4). Ministering, Missionary Work, and Temple and Family History Work are especially important in making sure everyone is having their needs met in this life.
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christshall all be made alive,” (1 Cor. 15:22). With the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all the people who have ever lived on the earth can receive the blessings of the gospel. We all have the hope that we will be fine- that with the Atonement we can receive a remission of sins and peace in hard times. We are never truly alone.
“I Know That My Redeemer Liveth”
The simple fact is that Jesus lives. He loves us and wants us to be truly happy. To that end, He invites us to follow the commandments and stay on the covenant path. When we fall, He is there to help us back up. When we wander into the wilderness, He will search for us. When we are overcome with grief and sorrow, He will wrap his arms around us and comfort us. As we seek to help those in need, He will stand beside us. When we do what we know is right, He will encourage us to keep it up. Let us not turn away from our responsibilities and what we know is true. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “He has walked alone once. Now, may I ask that never again will He have to confront sin without our aid and assistance, that never again will He find only unresponsive onlookers when He sees you and me along His Via Dolorosa in our present day.” In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.