March 31, 2013

The Most Glorious of All Messages

I gave this talk in Sacrament Meeting last Easter, and I felt moved to share it today as yet another opportunity to rejoice in the miracle and reality of Christ’s victory over death. 

Admittedly, when I was given the invitation by Brother Warnock to speak on the subject of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, I felt a little intimidated. As with many topics in the gospel, the doctrine of resurrection is both simple in its definition and complex in its implications for both our eternal salvation and our lives on this earth. Having grown up in the Church, the concept of resurrection is much more familiar to me than it is to society at large. This is a blessing, of course, but it also creates the possibility that I will begin to take this precious knowledge for granted. One of the goals of my talk today is to remind us of the sacredness and the reality of the doctrine of resurrection—specifically Christ’s Resurrection—which will, in turn, inspire both reverence and joy. The Bible Dictionary defines resurrection as “the uniting of a spirit body with a body of flesh and bones, never again to be divided” (761). Though others had been brought back from death, Christ was the first to be resurrected on this earth because He became immortal in the reuniting of his spirit and body. The same Bible Dictionary entry goes on to say that “To obtain a resurrection with a celestial, exalted body is the center point of hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus in the most glorious of all messages to mankind” (761). It is my privilege to share this, the most glorious of all messages, with you today and to explore why the Resurrection is the central point of hope in the gospel and in our lives.

President Howard W. Hunter made the following powerful statement in a 1986 General Conference address.
Easter is the celebration of the free gift of immortality given to all men, restoring life and healing all wounds. Though all will die as part of the eternal plan of growth and development, nevertheless we can all find comfort in the Psalmist’s statement, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (Ps. 30:5.)  
It was Job who posed what might be called the question of the ages: “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14.) Christ’s answer rings down through time to this very hour: “Because I live, ye shall live also.” (John 14:19.) 
Even with the logic of nature’s regeneration and even with the testimony of that empty garden tomb, there are still those who feel the grave is a final destination. But the doctrine of the Resurrection is the single most fundamental and crucial doctrine in the Christian religion. It cannot be overemphasized, nor can it be disregarded. 
Without the Resurrection, the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes a litany of wise sayings and seemingly unexplainable miracles—but sayings and miracles with no ultimate triumph. No, the ultimate triumph is in the ultimate miracle: for the first time in the history of mankind, one who was dead raised himself into living immortality. He was the Son of God, the Son of our immortal Father in Heaven, and his triumph over physical and spiritual death is the good news every Christian tongue should speak.
Job’s question “If a man die, shall he live again?” is one that many searching souls in this earth will pose within their hearts. Some have even convinced themselves that this question is not worth asking because they believe that this life really is all we have, and that death extinguishes our spirits and reduces our bodies to rotting flesh buried in cramped soil. For those of us blessed to know that Christ overcame all things, including the death of the body, we likewise ask a question found in the hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”: “Where, O death, is now thy sting? Where thy victory, O grave?” We know that death is not the end. 

As I have thought about the Resurrection this past week, one thing that keeps coming to mind is that Christ’s role as our Savior and Redeemer means that He will show us by example what is possible. In a world characterized by change and decay, Christ overcame the greatest enemy of them all: death. “With men, this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). We likewise may deem it impossible to overcome a sin or a weakness, but the Resurrection stands as a reminder that the same divine being who accomplished the impossible by rising again on the third day is our personal advocate. Just as He performed the Atonement for each of us individually, He rose again for each of us individually as a perfect witness that He has indeed “overcome the world” and all of its limitations. He has overcome the world and all of its cruelest and most unfair experiences. Not only that, but He stands willing and able to help us do exactly the same thing. If we put our faith in Christ, we can be assured the same victory He won. 

Can you imagine what might happen if the whole world were to have faith in this one doctrine—that Christ died and rose again, guaranteeing the free gift of immortality for our own bodies? Not only that, but our bodies will rise up again in perfection, without the physical limitations that beset some of us in this mortal life. As Elder Russell M. Nelson said last week in Conference, “Be we reminded that a perfect body is not needed to achieve one’s divine destiny. In fact, some of the sweetest spirits are housed in frail or imperfect bodies. Great spiritual strength is often developed by people with physical challenges, precisely because they are so challenged.” Once again, I reiterate that a perfect body is not needed to achieve one’s divine destiny. How sweet this must be to the ears and hearts of those who suffer from blindness, deafness, the inability to walk, chronic pain, or other weaknesses and debilitation of the mortal body. It might be hard for those people to envision how their body will one day be free of those imperfect earthly conditions, just as we all may find it difficult to actually envision our spirits as cleansed and totally free from sin. Christ, through His Atonement and Resurrection, has shown us that both the frailties which beset the body and the weaknesses which beset the spirit can be overcome. He freely offers His assistance—that is to say, His grace, His mercy, His strengthening power—to enable our own story of victory over death and over sin. It can be hard to see how His victory will indeed become our own victory, especially since we find ourselves in the middle of our own salvation story. Faith is what helps us cling to the knowledge that, in spite of what your body or spirit faces now, things will get better because Christ paved the way for each of us to experience our own personal triumph.

My mind is drawn to a particular resurrection story in process that is unfolding here in Provo. I quite vividly remember the early December morning in 2010 when my friend and I were driving down Center Street on our way to the highway to catch a flight back to Michigan. My friend, who had only recently moved into the area, asked, “What is that building?” I must have been rifling through my bag and not looking up to see. “It’s on fire!” I immediately looked up to see smoke billowing from the beloved Provo Tabernacle. I simply could not believe it. Later that night, stranded in a Texas hotel, I read official reports of the fire. My heart ached. Even though I had only been a resident of Provo for four years, I had already enjoyed numerous Stake Conferences in that building and—perhaps even more dear to my heart—several beautiful BYU choir performances in which I was privileged to take part. I had friends who had grown up in the area who probably had memories of other Church and community-hosted events like firesides, concerts, and graduations. As I read in a Deseret News report of the event: “The building not only serves our members and the community, but it is a reminder of the pioneering spirit that built Utah. The damage appears severe, and until we make structural assessment, we don’t know whether this historic treasure can be saved.” I would like to read a few other excerpts from this article—quotes from members of the community about their reactions to the Tabernacle’s burning. 
“The writer behind CJane’s guide to Provo said she hopes it can be rebuilt, if not saved.
‘I'm really hoping that there is some way to save some part of the history of the place,’ she said. ‘This morning, when I saw that it was up in flames, I felt a shock like I would if it was a family member. I think that losing the Provo Tabernacle is like losing a prominent member of our society. It's going to be felt far and wide. It's a huge loss.’ 
‘(I'm) devastated, heartbroken,’ said resident Phillip Kunz. ‘This building represents so many things to almost every resident of Provo and really the entire valley—graduations and ceremonies and important meetings and then just the symbolic nature of the building—its architecture and the historic way it came about. It's just tragic, heartbreaking.’”
The article concludes with this statement by Mayor Curtis: “Clearly there will be sentiment on all sides to try and make this building something it once was. I just hope that’s even a possibility.”

Because we have the benefit of even just a year and a half of additional experience, we can smile a little when we hear these statements of devastation and uncertainty because we know now that the former Tabernacle has been lifted to higher purposes. In October 2011, President Monson announced that the damaged Tabernacle would be transformed into a second temple in Provo. The groundbreaking date has been set for May 12 of this year, which happens to be my Great Grandma Green’s birthday. Were she alive, she would be turning 113 years old on that day. She did not have the opportunity to partake of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ in this life, but it is a source of great joy and peace that she—as with all of our ancestors—has the opportunity to accept a baptism and an endowment made by proxy in a holy temple such as the one that will soon grace Provo Center Street. While no one would wish such a tragedy upon the Tabernacle, we can see now how the Lord’s plan for that building was much higher than anything we could have imagined for it. Likewise, His plan for us reaches above and beyond that which we can imagine for ourselves. 

When I think of the Provo Tabernacle, I think of a phoenix, “a mythical bird with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet. It has a 500 to 1000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again.” We too are phoenixes—we will one day rise from our ashes. Only, unlike the phoenix, who is only destined to live again as long as its old self, we will become incorruptible in our resurrection and we have the opportunity for eternal progression that will never reduce us to ashes again. However, in the midst of our own mortal experiences—which may at times feel as though we are being reduced to ashes—we may rightly find ourselves asking the same questions Provo residents asked of the Tabernacle: Can it be restored again? I hope so. What a heartbreaking thing, we may think. Or, to repeat the words of Mayor Curtis, only now applying them to ourselves: I just hope that’s even a possibility. 

Sometimes, in the face of fierce opposition or a trial that has left us broken, it is all we can to do hope for even a possibility that we can be restored to our former health or happiness. If that is the case for you right now, please know that you have my heartfelt sympathy. It is easy to feel like the blessings of resurrection are so far in the future that we cannot enjoy them now. The joyous message of the Resurrection is not only intended to give us hope for the future, though it is true that we all look forward to a time when we will be reunited with dear and loved ones. Our knowledge and understanding of the Resurrection can aid us in finding peace and happiness now. Remember that Heavenly Father is looking down on us now, just as we are able to read those statements of uncertainty made by Provo residents in the aftermath of the fire, and thinking, “Don’t worry. Much better things are in store.” Remember that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” I imagine that this verse means we are conquerors because we, too, will overcome death and sin because of the Savior’s victory.

Elder Franklin D. Richards said, “Easter time is indeed a forceful reminder that the human spirit cannot be confined. It does not deny the reality of death, but it offers us an assurance that God has preserved life beyond the grave.” I love that: the human spirit cannot be confined. When challenged by rulers demanding some sign of his authorization to clear the temple of profane vendors and money changers, Jesus declared, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. “Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body” (John 2: 19-21). Christ did raise up his body. He is raising up the Provo Tabernacle. He will raise us in our tabernacles of clay.

He lives! He loves us! And I think those two things are perhaps more intimately connected than we can understand. May we all let Him raise us up and lead us into life eternal.

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