Sunday, March 27, 2016

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)

    Saturday, March 26, 2016


    Fra Angelico, Christ in Limbo

    Episodes for Personal Study

    • A Guard is Placed at the Tomb (Matthew 27:62–66)
    • Darkness Prevails among the Nephites (3 Nephi 9–10)
    • Jesus Goes to the Spirit World and Organizes His Work There (1 Peter 3:18–4:6; D&C 138)

    The only event the gospels record for the day after the crucifixion is the posting of a guard at the tomb at the request of the chief priests and Pharisees (Matthew 27:62–66).  Because this was ostensibly Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, Jesus’ family and friends stayed away from the tomb that day. Nothing else about Jesus’ body in the tomb or the activities of his disciples who were still in Jerusalem is known from those texts, although the Book of Mormon records that darkness prevailed among the Nephites during this period, symbolizing that the Light of the World had left it (see 3 Nephi 9–10).
    James Tissot, Watch over the Tomb

    Yet while the body of Jesus was in the tomb, his spirit was nonetheless alive and active.  An intriguing notice in 1 Peter 3:18–4:6 alludes to Jesus’ preaching to the dead or “spirits in prison.”  Christian tradition relates the so-called "Harrowing of Hell," wherein Jesus broke the bonds of Adam and Eve and brought them and other Old Testament saints from hell into heaven.  Although LDS doctrinal statements do not include statements such as "and he descended into hell" as do the Apostolic and other creeds, Restoration scripture does stress that "he descended below all things" (e.g., D&C 88:6, 122:8).

    Scriptural Accounts: Luke 23:43; 1 Peter 3:18–19, 4:6; D&C 138; 3 Nephi 9 and 10

    Ideas for Families 
    • Read Isaiah 52:7 and 53:10 and then Mosiah 15:10–18.  What does it mean that after he has made an offering for sin "he shall see his seed?"
    • Read portions of all or some of D&C 138 and discuss together Jesus' activities during the time that his body was in the tomb
    • Sing "How Beautiful Thy Temples, Lord" (hymn 288) or "Turn Your Hearts" (hymn 291)
    • Return to the the fact that during this time Jesus' body was in the tomb.  Perhaps using traditional customs, such as coloring Easter eggs, talk about how the egg had come to be a symbol of the tomb.  To prepare for Easter morning, extend the discussion to talk about what happens when the egg hatches.

    Suggested Listening: Wilberg’s Requiem and Cundick’s Redeemer

    Because of the insights of Restoration scriptures and teaching—about Christ’s mission and atonement in general, but about his work for the dead in particular—I am moved by listening on the Saturday before Easter to great, full-length works by recent Latter-day Saint composers.  Knowing that these artists share not only a testimony of the saving work of Jesus, but also a testimony of the restored gospel, adds to my aesthetic appreciation of their music.

    The musical genre of the requiem developed out of the Roman Catholic tradition of a requiem mass for the dead, celebrated to petition for peace and eternal rest for the souls of the departed.  Because this was what the sacrifice and death of Jesus was all about, listening to a requiem in advance of Easter has always resonated with me, especially on the day when we remember that the body of Jesus itself lay dead in the tomb.  This type of music sets a somber tone that provides a more glorious and stunning contrast to the imminent joy of Easter morning.  As a musical form, the requiem has been explored by non-Catholic composers as well, notably by Brahms, Faure, Britton, and Rutter.

    We are fortunate, therefore, to have a composition of this type done by an LDS composer.  Mack Wilberg’s Requiem grew out of two pieces, “Requiem aeternam,” or “Eternal Peace,” and its restatement, that Brother Wilberg originally composed to frame a performance of Vaughan Williams’ Dona nobis pacem at Carnegie Hall in March 2006.  Encouraged to compose a full-length requiem by his friend and colleague, Craig Jessop, then conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Brother Wilberg completed the score that summer, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square premiered it in April 2007.  According to the published recording notes, “Recognizing the weight of tradition that accompanies the writing of a Requiem, Wilberg has incorporated several archaic features into this work. All of the texts are at least a thousand years old, and in several of the movements the melodies are decidedly chant-like.  In many ways Wilberg’s Requiem represents and summarizes centuries of the lamenting tradition in music.” While every movement of this work is musically powerful, the final movement, “I Am the Resurrection and the Life,” fits the anticipation of the Saturday before Easter perfectly.


    The Redeemer is a full-length oratorio in the tradition of Handel’s Messiah that was composed by Robert Cundick in 1977.  Earlier, Ralph Woodward, music professor at Brigham Young University, had selected scriptures from throughout all four LDS standard works for a “musical service depicting the doctrines and Atonement of Jesus Christ.”  He then approached Brother Cundick, who served as Tabernacle organist from April 1965 until December 1991, to compose the score.  Spanning the prophesied coming of the Redeemer, the achievement of his atoning sacrifice, and the promise that it offers us, the oratorio culminates with “a glorious declaration of the hope and light to be gained from the Savior’s resurrection and Atonement, as taught by Book of Mormon prophets and latter-day revelation.” Performed and recorded first by combined choirs at BYU and later by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, The Redeemer has served as a powerful musical testimony to both LDS performers and listeners for more than 30 years.

    Jesus and the Spirit World
    See the longer discussion in God So Loved the World, 95–105.

    The real state of the righteous dead before the Atonement of Christ and Jesus' own activities among them during the time that his body lay in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea were revealed to Joseph F. Smith on October 3, 1918:

    "As I pondered over these things which are written, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.  And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality; And who had offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God, and had suffered tribulation in their Redeemer's name. 
    "All these had departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God the Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand.  They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death.  Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy.
    "While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful; And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.
    "But unto the wicked he did not go, and among the ungodly and the unrepentant who had defiled themselves while in the flesh, his voice was not raised; Neither did the rebellious who rejected the testimonies and the warnings of the ancient prophets behold his presence, nor look upon his face. Where these were, darkness reigned, but among the righteous there was peace; And the saints rejoiced in their redemption, and bowed the knee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the chains of hell." (D&C 138:11-23, emphasis added)

    President Smith Further related the subsequent missionary work that was organized in the Spirit World:

    "But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead. And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel. Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets. These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. And so it was made known among the dead, both small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful, that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross." (D&C 138:30-35, emphasis added)

    The account from 3 Nephi not only provides a powerful picture of the aftermath of Jesus' death in the New World but also contains some powerful teaching by the voice of the Savior himself regarding the effects of his death and resurrection:

    "Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me.  Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name.  I came unto my own, and my own received me not. And the scriptures concerning my coming are fulfilled.  And as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the sons of God; and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name, for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled.  I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

    "And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.  And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.  Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin.  Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved." (3 Nephi 9:14-22, emphasis added)

    Easter Quick Links