[The following is from a speaking assignment I fulfilled in my church congregation on Sunday, March 25, 2018. I was asked to speak for 10-12 minutes on the resurrection. I had very little time to prepare due to my forgetful brain, but the Lord made up the difference].
I should mention that when I was in high school and spoke to my guidance counselor about what I enjoyed and where that might lead me in a career, I mentioned that I liked public speaking and biology. In a response that can only be described now as the death-knell of my dreams, I remember that her face lit up and she said, “You could be a spokesperson for a dog food company!”
It may have worked out after all as I am frequently trying to get my kids to eat food that dogs would love to have.
In the few minutes I have, I would love to be able to speak about the biology of the resurrection, but today when I speak about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and what that means for us, I will speak in Gospel terms and let the Spirit teach you on whatever level you need right now.
We often think in terms of seasons when we speak about the Resurrection. Spring is the time of birth, so it is compared to our rebirth, or resurrection. Summer is a time of growing and progressing, so it is often compared to our mortal journey on earth. Autumn is that winding-down time when we ensure that we have adequately prepared for the coming winter when death brings an end to our mortal journey.
Some of us traverse these seasons of the year with ease while many of us struggle for one reason or another. I know a lot of people who struggle Seasonal Affective Disorder or who feel overwhelmed by Spring and Summer. But overall, it seems like Spring is too unpredictable. Even if you’ve experienced spring in Colorado for 50 years, you’re still surprised when your Mother’s Day flowers are covered in snow and your tomato plants need replanting. Or summer and winter just get too long and too much of the same. Autumn is either too short or too wet or too hot or too cold. It’s hard to get Autumn just right, and many of us forget to appreciate those few days of Autumn splendor that really are the crowning achievement of summer. We only see the loss of summer’s freedom and the impending doom of stagnant winter looming before us.
But today as I share what I have been pondering about the Resurrection, I want to look more broadly at this pattern that we see in the natural world. I had occasion to re-read the book of Ecclesiastes, written by King David of the Old Testament, and some of the letters of Paul the missionary in the New Testament over the past week or so.
(And I felt very blessed to have been led to these scriptures when I received a reminder email from Brother Smith thanking me for accepting this speaking assignment. I had entirely forgotten about it. That was on Friday. So that night I read earnestly from the Bible Dictionary on Resurrection and asked the Lord that I would hear in the teachings of the temple a message I could share with you today.)
With that knowledge in mind, and as I studied the words of David and Paul that apply to the Resurrection, and as I found added understanding from the Book of Mormon, I had a little epiphany.
This cyclical pattern symbolizing life and death is only the beginning of what may be countless symbols that we have for Christ’s resurrection. In the Bible Dictionary we read, “The resurrection consists in the uniting of a spirit body with a body of flesh and bones, never again to be divided.”
I thought about that in light of our creation and this world that God created for us. Over epochs of time, and with power that modern scholars are only beginning to discern, God divided light from darkness, the atmosphere, or firmament, from the surface of the earth, the land from the water, those creatures who may act from those creatures who are acted upon, and then woman was divided from man. And God called all of his creation “very good” (see Genesis 1-2 and Moses 2-3).
I was struck by this pronouncement because don’t we often think of night and darkness as symbols for things that are bad? Don’t you often think that where there are opposites, one is better than the other? Heaven is up, Hell is down. And then there are the messages the world gives us about how our looks and our money situation and our achievements are either desirable or unacceptable. These lies that Satan spreads lead to feelings of fragmentation, like we are not a whole person but a conglomeration of possessions, physical attributes, problems, habits, and broken dreams, worries, and fears.
So what was the purpose of God dividing all of these things? Doesn’t that seem counterproductive? And what does this have to do with the Resurrection?
Instead of looking at all of these things as opposites, I began to think of them as complements, things that complete one another. We were not complete as spirits in the pre-mortal existence (see Abraham 3:19-26), and we are definitely incomplete when we leave our bodies behind with death (see Doctrine and Covenants 45:17).
Who is it that brings together these complementary and–sometimes what appear to be–opposing forces? Who reconciles the loss that I have learned to accept in autumn with the joy that I feel in early spring? Who helps us to love new life while accepting the inevitability and necessity of death? It is our Savior Jesus Christ. This resurrection of his body, his power over death, means that what seemed irreconcilable can be made whole and complete.
Paul teaches us that the sting of death is sin (1 Corinthians 15:56). Justice requires that we have no sin if we are to be reconciled to God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). But how do we escape life without sin? Certainly those who have not reached the age or ability to be accountable are saved by Christ’s sacrifice (see Moroni 8:10-26), but for those of us who got baptized and then went home and hit their brother on the head with a stuffed animal in order to show off to a cute boy—that might have been me—then what about her? Is she consigned to forever be separated from God, to always be fallen, like a great wedge is between her and the home she longs to return to?
No! Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and willingly suffered all that we will ever feel so that we can repent and through him leave behind our sins and mistakes (see Alma 7:11-13 and Isaiah 53:4-6). And not only are we cleansed from those things that we earnestly repent of, we learn from the experience of Joseph Smith while he was unjustly imprisoned in Liberty jail that all that has gone wrong in our lives can also be for our good when we turn to Christ.
Joseph Smith asked, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:1). In answer, the Lord concluded “…if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (Doctrine and Covenants 122: 7-8).
All of us face death of some kind. The literal death of a loved one, the death of a marriage, the death of the faith a loved one once had, the death of a dream, the death of a security you once felt, the death of man-made systems, the death of your freedom when you succumb to addiction or have to pay for your crime with money and/or jail time. But these things we call death do not need to stop us in our progression and rejoicing. We can proclaim with Paul, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:55).”
For the “Son of Man hath descended below them all” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:8), and “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things, to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
My sisters and brothers, I ask you, what in your life have you seen as a wedge that separates you, or divides you, from the love of God? When have you said, “I could rejoice at the thought of returning to live with my Father in Heaven except that I am not good enough because…”
Do you remember what happened to David of the Old Testament who took down a giant named Goliath? Armed only with faith and the impeccable accuracy of a shepherd’s slingshot, he did what no man thought was possible (see 1 Samuel 17). But just like all human creatures, he also fell. He made some terrible choices as he enjoyed the power of a king (see 2 Samuel 11). And yet, even those seasons of his life did not define him because he turned to the Lord and repented. The Lord makes purpose where we only see loss, or destruction, or hurt (see Ecclesiastes 3).
Please, on this Palm Sunday, as we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of our Savior, look with eyes of hope at the wedge in your life that you think keeps you from God’s love. Turn to him, and “let the Lamb…lead [you] unto living fountains of water and wipe away all tears from [your] eyes (Revelation 7:17). Let Christ be the keystone that, though shaped like a wedge, completes what appear to be two opposing forces in your life (see the talk by Elder Gary E. Stevenson “Look to the Book, Look to the Lord”).
I share these things with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Title comes from my favorite sacrament hymn, Reverently and Meekly Now.]