|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
Ideas for Celebrating Easter | A Working Chronology | The Raising of Lazarus | The Symbolism of Jesus as Anointed King and Priest: The Anointing in John
The Passion Week and the Resurrection