Sunday, May 24, 2015


"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.  And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them."  (Act 2:1-3)

Stained glass window depicting the Trinity and Pentecost, Yorkminster Cathedral, York, England

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ascension Day

. . . Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. (Acts 1:11)
Benjamin West, The Ascension

The fortieth day after Easter commemorates the ascension into heaven of the Risen Lord.  The evangelist Luke provides us with two different accounts: a brief summary at the end of his gospel (Luke 24:50–53) and a slight longer narrative at the end of the Forty Day Ministry in his history of the apostolic church that includes Jesus' final instructions to his apostles, a description of Jesus' ascension, and the angelic promise of his return (Acts 1:6–11).

Harry Anderson, The Ascension

 In many Christian traditions, Ascension Day is celebrated as a minor but important holiday, either with services on the day itself or on the following Sunday.  As with most liturgical holidays, the LDS community has never established any formal observances for the ascension.  Nevertheless, reading not only the biblical accounts of Jesus' ascension together with scriptures describing his return, including passages from Restoration scripture, is a powerful way for us to conclude the Easter season not only by reaffirming that Christ lives but also by pointing our minds forward to the Second Coming.

Episodes for Personal Study
  • The Ascension (Luke 24:50–53; [Mark 16:19]; Acts 1:6–11)
  • The Second Coming (Zechariah 14:4, 9; Mark 13:24–27 [par Matthew 24:27–31; Luke 17:22–37]; 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 1:7; D&C 45:36–59; D&C 88:89–98)

Suggested Listening: Bach, Ascension Oratorio (German, Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, “Praise God in His Kingdoms”)

Ideas for Families
  • Read Acts 1:6–11 and talk about how the disciples might have felt when Jesus left them.  Why is it important to know that after the resurrection Jesus ascended into heaven with his body?
  • Read one of the prophecies of the Second Coming, such 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, D&C 45:39–59, or D&C 88:89–98.
  • Read 2 Peter 3:10, that descibes how Jesus will come "as a thief in the night," and discuss how we do not know exactly when Jesus will come again.  Then discuss the parable of the fig tree from Mark 13:28–31 and D&C 45:37–38.  While we should not obsess about exactly when Jesus will return, how can we prepare every day?
  • Sing "I Wonder When He Comes Again" (Children's Song Book, 82–83)

The Russian Tower of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives

The Mount of Olives plays an important role in both the Ascension of Jesus and the Second Coming.  Here Jesus had taken his disciples at the conclusion of his Jerusalem ministry to prepare them for his imminent death by sharing with them an importantprophecy of the end of the world and his promised return.  On the night before his crucifixion, it was here that he prayed in the Garden and began the saving work of hisatonement.  He ascended from here, and, according to Zechariah, this is one of the first places to which he will return.

Christ ascending into heaven in the dome of the Russian church

At the Mosque of the Ascension in May of 2012

From early on, Christians came to the summit of the Mount of Olives to commemorate Jesus’ ascension.  The Byzantines built a large church here, which was unusual: instead of a dome, it was left open to the sky so that worshipers could imagine how Jesus returned to heaven.  This church was later rebuilt by the Crusaders, but when Saladin reconquered Jerusalem, it was converted into a mosque (Muslims do not believe that Isa, or Jesus, died on the cross, but they do believe that he ascended into heaven and will return from there).

Inside the Mosque of the Ascension

The supposed footprint of Jesus in the Mosque of the Ascension

Studying passages that prophesy of Jesus’ return reaffirm the reality of both the resurrection and the ascension, helping us focus that Jesus’ work is not yet done.  He will return to vanquish evil and wickedness, restore peace and happiness, and eventually complete his conquest of death by bringing about the resurrection for each person who has ever lived.

Jesus ascending into heaven from dome of the Russian church

Harry Anderson, The Second Coming

I wonder, when he comes again,
Will herald angels sing?
Will earth be white with drifted snow,
Or will the world know spring?
I wonder if one star will shine
Far brighter than the rest;
Will daylight stay the whole night through?
Will songbirds leave their nests?
I'm sure he'll call his little ones
Together 'round his knee,
Because he said in days gone by,
"Suffer them to come to me."
I wonder, when he comes again,
Will I be ready there

To look upon his loving face

And join with him in prayer?

Each day I'll try to do his will

And let my light so shine

That others seeing me may seek

For greater light divine.

Then, when that blessed day is here,

He'll love me and he'll say,

"You've served me well, my little child;

Come unto my arms to stay." (Children's Songbook, 82–83)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter or "Resurrection" Sunday

Carl Heinrich Bloch, The Resurrection (Wikmedia Commons)
Because Easter is not a biblical term (and has pagan origins), some suggest that "Resurrection Sunday" would be a better term.  The actual word "Easter" only appears once in the King James Bible, at Acts 12:4, where is is better translated as "Passover." So significant was the event of that Sunday morning that Christians since have celebrated it as "the Lord's Day," and it has become our weekly sabbath, replacing the Saturday of the Old Testament. Still, for millennia the term "Easter" has come to be synonymous with resurrection, hope, and the joyful refrain "He is risen!" 

With the rays of the morning sun, the agony of Thursday, the pain and grief of Friday, and the separation of Saturday suddenly melted away in the joy of the first Easter.  For millennia the term “Easter” has come to be synonymous with resurrection, hope, and the joyful refrain “He is risen!”  So significant was the event of that Sunday morning that Christians since have celebrated it as “the Lord’s Day,” and it has become our weekly Sabbath, replacing the Saturday of the Old Testament.  As a result, while the week leading up to and including Easter is a wonderful time to commemorate and reflect upon the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is something we celebrate as a church family every week. Indeed, the covenants that we renew each Sunday enjoin us to remember him always.
The Herodian family tomb west of the Old City provides an idea of what Joseph of Arimathea's tomb would have looked like
The accounts of the resurrection in the four gospels serve as the foundation of our understanding of the rise of our Lord from the tomb.  They paint for us a dramatic story as the women found an empty tomb and heard the testimony of angels. The story crescendos as Peter and John confirm that the tomb was empty.  First Mary, then the other women, and then two disciples converse with Jesus on the way to Emmaus.  Finally the ten of the remaining eleven apostles see the Risen Lord.  These and subsequent appearances confirm that Jesus in fact rose from the dead “with healing in his wings,” and though he ascended again into heaven, the gospels leave us with the assurance that in a very real way he remains here with us.  (From God So Loved the World, 107–108)

Scriptural Accounts: Matt 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20:1–18

William Bouguereau, The Three Marys at the Tomb, 1876.
Episodes for Personal Study
  • The Empty Tomb (Mark 16:1–8; Matt 28:1–8; Luke 24:1–9; John 20:1–10)
  • Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene (Matt 28:9–10; Luke 24:10–11; John 20:11–18; [Mark 16:9–11])
  • Chief Priests React to the Resurrection (Matt 28:11–15)
  • The Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35; [Mark 16:12–13])
  • Jesus Appears to the Disciples (Luke 24:26–48; John 20:19–23 [to the Ten only]; [Mark 16:14])

Ideas for Families

  • I find nothing wrong with traditional activities such as egg hunts and gathering candy Easter morning. But as we do Christmas morning, we make sure that the spiritual focus comes first and the "fun" second.
  • Gather in a room, say the parents' bedroom, other than where Easter baskets and candy may be found. Read one of the resurrection stories, such as Luke 24:1–12. Then bear testimony of the resurrection, sing "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" or "He Is Risen" and have family prayer. After this, other Easter traditions can follow.
  • Talk about the reactions of the different characters to the evidence provided them that first Easter: the stone rolled away, the empty tomb, the witness of angels, and finally appearances of the Risen Lord. How do we react to the news of the resurrection of Jesus? How does our testimony start with small evidences, is reinforced by the witness of others, and finally solidified by personal revelation?
  • Read or sing C. Austin Miles' "In the Garden" (see the background of this hymn in the musical reflection below)
    Walter Rane, He Is Not Here

    Brief Discussion of the Events of Easter Sunday
    See the much longer discussion in God So Loved the World, 107–119.

     All four gospels begin their resurrection narratives with an account of the empty tomb, preserving the wonder and awe that filled the women who came to the tomb that early morning to find the stone rolled away.
    And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, "Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?" And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, "Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him."  (Mark 16:16)

    Scriptural and Musical Reflection: "In the Garden"

    Eeugen Burnand, The Disciples Running to the Sepulchre, 1898.
    The experience of Mary Magdalene in finding the tomb empty is much expanded in the account of John.  In the account of Jesus' burial in John 19:41, the sepulchre is specifically described as being in a garden.  It is in this garden that Mary's touching experience with the Risen Lord is then described in John 20:1–18.  In this account Mary came to the garden tomb alone, and, finding it empty, she ran to tell the disciples that Jesus' body was missing.  Upon hearing this news, Peter and another disciple, usually assumed to be John, ran to the garden, stooped to enter the tomb, and found in it only the linen cloths with which Jesus' body had been wrapped. (John 20:3–10).

    The disciples then left Mary weeping alone in the garden.  Soon she saw two angels in the tomb at the spot where Jesus' body had lain.  When they asked why she was crying, she said it was because she feared that someone had taken the Lord's body.  Then, turning, she "saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus."
    Jesus saith unto her, "Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?" She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, "Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away."  Jesus saith unto her, "Mary." She turned herself, and saith unto him, "Rabboni," which is to say, Master.   Jesus saith unto her, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." (John 20:1517)
    Harry Anderson, He Is Risen
    Mary thus became the first person to see the Risen Lord, and, obedient to his direction, she went and told the disciples all that she had seen and heard.  In this Mary serves as a model witness for all believers, but especially to women.  As I wrote in God So Loved the World, 114, "Given the restrictions on women in that time and culture, which allowed them to do very little without the permission, guidance, or direction of the men in their lives, Mary’s ability to gain a testimony on her own—without father, brother, husband, or guardian—provides an important and empowering image for women today. Just as the Beloved Disciple gained his testimony standing at the foot of the cross and in the empty tomb, so can Woman gain the surest witness possible directly from the risen Lord."

    Yet Peter and John too serve as examples for believers, even when our witness is less secure than that of Mary.  When she had told them that the tomb was empty, they did not walk, they ran to the garden to see whether her report was true.  And though they did not see the Risen Lord at that time, seeing the tomb empty and the burial clothes lying there, they nonetheless believed.  Do we too run to find out whether the testimony of the resurrection that we hear and read from others is true?  And are we able to accept on faith its reality even when we have not yet seen the resurrected Christ?

    The experiences of Peter, John, and above all of Mary provided author and composer C. Austin Miles (1896–1946) inspiration for a touching hymn that has become a Christian classic.  In April of 1912 Miles was reading from John 20 when he felt that he was drawn into the garden scene.  In what he described as a vision, he saw Mary and then the other two disciples as they discovered the empty tomb.  But above all, he saw Mary as she heard the voice of Jesus, turned to look at him, and cried out "Rabboni!"  It was under the influence of this vision that Miles wrote "In the Garden" (Osbeck, Amazing Grace, second edition, 113).

    I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses;
                And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses.

    He speaks, and the sound of his voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing;
                And the melody that he gave to me within my heart is ringing.

    I’d stay in the garden with him tho the nigh around me is falling;
                But he bids me go—through the voice of woe, his voice to me is calling.
    Watch and listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square as they perform Ryan Murphy's arrangement of "In the Garden."

    Through the words and the melody of this lovely yet simple song, we can picture ourselves in that garden scene, imagining what it will be like when we also have the privilege of seeing the Risen Lord.

    With Samuel at the Garden Tomb, Holy Week 2011

    Christ is Risen!

    An early Greek tradition was to greet people Easter morning with the expression Χριστός ἀνέστη, meaning "Christ is Risen!" to which one responds Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη, "Truly he is risen indeed!"  Common now throughout the Eastern Orthodox world, it has been adopted by many Roman Catholics and Protestants in Western countries.

    Even if this is not a custom in your family, the favorite Easter hymn, "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," certainly catches the feelings of joy  that we share with Christians the world over at the Easter miracle.
    Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
    Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
    Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
    Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth reply, Alleluia!

    Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
    Fought the fight, the vict’ry won, Alleluia!
    Jesus’ agony is o’er, Alleluia!
    Darkness veils the earth no more, Alleluia!

    Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
    Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
    Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
    Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia! (Hymn 200)

    Subsequent Appearances

    • Jesus and Thomas (John 20:24–29)
    • Jesus Meets the Disciples in Galilee (John 21:1–14)
      • Jesus and Peter: Three-fold affirmation of Peter’s love (21:15–19)
      • Jesus and the Other Disciple (21:20–23)
    • The Forty Day Ministry (Acts 1:1–5)
    • Apostolic commission (Mark 16:15–18 [still in Jerusalem?]; Matt 28:16–20 [Galilee]; Acts 1:6–8)
    • The Ascension (Mark 16:19–20; Luke 24:49–53; Acts 1:9–11)
    • See also Paul’s list of post-resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:3–9 (Peter, the rest of the Twelve, over five hundred, James the brother of Jesus, "all the ‘apostles,’" and, last of all, Paul)
    The Gospel accounts make it clear that the risen Lord was seen, heard, and felt. To these accounts one can add Paul’s list of post-resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:3–9 (Peter, the rest of the Twelve, over five hundred, James the brother of Jesus, "all the ‘apostles,’" and, last of all, Paul). Much later the apostle John, referring both to the reality of the Incarnation and Jesus’ continuing physical reality wrote:
    That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1–3)


    With my mother at the Garden Tomb, December 2011
    Each of the resurrection narratives carries beauty and power, confirming our own testimonies that Jesus indeed rose from the dead and lives today. The fact that the first to actually see him were Mary Magdalene, the other women, and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus suggests that all disciples, not just the Twelve, can receive sure testimonies that Jesus lives. Nevertheless, we are grateful for such special witnesses, "to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs [Greek tekmēriois, "sure signs" or "tokens"]" (Acts 1:3).

    For my final Easter message, however, I want to share the implications of his resurrection for us. Inasmuch as Jesus has overcome death, all shall live again . . . and as the Book of Mormon teaches, all will be restored to a perfect frame with imperfections corrected and challenges overcome (see Alma 11:42–44).

    Mounting examples in this life of those who struggle with physical, developmental, and other challenges—including those of my own precious son—have caused me to see a new need for the hope of renewal, rebirth, and healing that are so marvelously illustrated in the reality of the resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ own resurrection healed hearts as "grief turned to joy":
    "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you." (John 16:20–21)
    Mother, my daughter Rachel, and my niece Lindsay
    The hope of the resurrection continues to heal many grieving hearts as well as bodies, giving new meaning to the prophecy "but unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings" (Malachi 4:2). Significantly, Jesus’ final commission to the apostles included the important injunction that they go forth not only to teach and baptize (Matt 28:19–20) but also to lay hands on the sick that should recover (Mark 16:18, 20). Certainly part of our discipleship should be that as Christ brought hope and healing, so should we work for these ends in our own small way.

    "He is not here, for he is risen!"
    Beyond this, however, is the hope of a glorious resurrection for those who accept him and are true and faithful to the covenants that they make with him. In recent years the deaths of grandparents, my father, my mother-in-law, and now last year my dear Mother have brought new meaning to this Easter message. Because He lives, so shall we . . . accordingly I close with the words of Paul that I shared at Dad's funeral:

    For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 4:14–17; see D&C 88:95–98)