On the sweetness of Mormon life.
Easter Morning. You take family pictures under the Bradford Pear. Then you take more pictures after you remember to remove the hanging mosquito trap.
You go to church. You take the sacrament. A girl receives the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The first two speakers are a 14-year old girl and a 16-year old boy. You don’t hear them, because you are the last speaker, and you have forgotten your talk at home. You are frantically jotting down key words in sequence.
The next speaker is your wife. She talks about scripture as a language that we are trying to learn. We learn the language by imitating Christ, she says. Her best sermon is herself. She is vibrant, gracious, classical, beautiful, full of life. She glows. This is the woman you were grumbling at the night before, you think. But now . . .
You wrote your talk in your head on Saturday while mowing your front yard and your side yard and your back yard, and while spraying for crabgrass. It is fortunate, because you forgot your written talk and now you can’t even see your keywords. There is this thing inside you to be said, and it’s as if you can’t break your concentration on it even to look down at a paper. Your oldest daughter tells you afterwards that you did look down a few times. But you didn’t see anything. Your eyes were blank.
This is what you say:
Congratulations to Bethany who was baptized yesterday. [You look at her. She smiles reassuringly.] You know, when we are baptized we symbolically die like Christ in the water and then come out resurrected as a new person like him. Pretty wonderful to relive that on Easter weekend. We just took the sacrament. We do it to remember his atonement, but we are also reliving the last meal he had with his friends. He broke the bread and gave them the drink. My wife talked about living like Christ did too.
The scriptures say we should liken them unto us. So let’s do it. Let’s relive what it would be like to live back then with Christ. Let’s imagine that its 2000 years ago. What’s it like?
You are poor. You aren’t starving maybe, but life is hard. You have a family. You don’t know how to make ends meet. You have to struggle day to day. You have hardships.
Your country is occupied by enemy soldiers. They can be brutal. They bully and they steal. There is no law that protects you against them. Remember from the scriptures about going the extra mile? They would grab you and say: Hey you. Carry my pack. And you would. You are humiliated a lot. You worry for your family. You are afraid.
The leaders of your own people are corrupt. They are greedy. They worry about getting rich, not about you. They spread distorted versions of your religion. They make it hard to understand. They are not on your side. They collaborate with the occupying soldiers. You can’t trust them. You are leaderless.
Your faith is all you have. You hold on to it. But there are many rules. You are tired and you are weak. You break some. Some you have broken so often that you don’t even remember that you could do better. You know you displease God but you don’t know what to do about it. You avoid thinking about it. You are ashamed. You are guilty.
Your faith has lots of signs and prophecies. They are interesting to talk about. You discuss them a lot with your friends and neighbors. But they don’t change our daily life. They are almost a hobby. One of the prophecies is about a great hero who will come to free your people and make you prosperous again, and give the ordinary people justice and peace and safety.
The time comes when you start to hear rumors. There is a man who has some of the signs for the prophecy, maybe. His name is Yeshua/Joshua/Jesus. In Hebrew, something like Jehovah Savior, or Jehovah Saves. You hear good things about him. You also hear ugly rumors. He let his disciples break important rules, some say, like working on the Sabbath. He broke them himself, others say. He associates with bad people. He pretended to forgive somebody’s sins. He raised someone from the dead. He once claimed that he was a god.
But you know how ugly rumors can be for someone controversial. You figure these are all lies. You have seen and even heard him once or twice and he didn’t seem like a crazy man. Someone in your extended family who lives with you, maybe your mother, becomes a follower and she says things that sound good. She wouldn’t follow a crazy man.
But you aren’t a follower yourself. Daily life is too hard. Maybe your mother, who is old, dies, so you stop hearing about him that way. You mean to learn more, but you have to eat and you never do.
Then something special happens.
Brothers and sisters, this part is hard to understand, so lets come back to the modern day for a moment. Let’s imagine that we live in a conquered country. America fell apart. Now foreign troops man checkpoints and tax us to pay for them. But there is a rumor that some remnant of the government survived whatever it was, the nuclear attack or whatever it could be, and they have appointed a new President and he has the nuclear launch codes and can threaten the foreign power enough to make them leave. That’s the rumor. The rumor is even about one man in particular. He doesn’t admit it, but he doesn’t deny it either. And it could fit. He acts like the President. He’s always giving speeches about what it means to be an American, and freedom, and how government should really be. Then one day he marches into Washington, D.C., carrying an old American flag with a band playing Hail to the Chief and he marches into the White House and no one stops him. [Ludicrously, of all the parts in your talk, this is the one where you lose your composure. You will not regain it.] The crowd is huge and it roars USA! USA! USA! How would you feel? What would you think?
Now back in Jerusalem. Jesus rode in on a donkey. That’s the old symbol of King David and the Jewish monarchy back before it was conquered. It’s like that old American flag and the band playing Hail to the Chief. Remember the palm fronds people are waving? And you are taking off your coat to throw them on the dirt so he won’t get muddy. That’s what you do when a king enters, as it into a city that he had just freed, or else when he was going to be crowned. And you all roar ‘the Messiah, the Messiah’ and he doesn’t deny it. When someone tells him to stop you, he says that if you didn’t say it, the very stones would cry it. He IS the Messiah, you realize. All that about the stones, he means its like who he is is written in the very Earth. None of the Romans or the collaborators do anything to him. And here in the old capitol city of the old Jewish kingdom, he goes straight to the temple which is the center of your faith and preaches there.
You listen and you are amazed. You understand him. He makes the scriptures make sense to you. But more than that. When you hear him talk, you feel like the better person you forgot that you should be. You not only feel it’s possible to keep God’s rules and do right, you start to feel that it might be fun, like an adventure. You begin to see that your idea of the Messiah’s kingdom was wrong. After he throws the enemy out, he won’t be done. He’s going to help you be a righteous people. You are deeply moved. You can’t stay away. You come back every day to listen to him.
One day he’s not there. You hear rumors. He’s been betrayed. He’s been arrested. Impossible, you think. No. He’s the Messiah. They haven’t been able to touch him.
Then you see him tied up. The occupiers have him. You feel sick. He’s not the Messiah. It was a pretty lie. You had only let yourself believe it.
The enemy general says he has another prisoner who’s a criminal and he’ll release one of the two. The people around, maybe some of them are your friends, are angry and betrayed. They want the criminal. They are really heated up. The enemy are brutal and they have a brutal execution they do. They call it “crossing.” They take two pieces of lumber and cross them like a T, then they nail the victim to it to hang until he dies. The crowd chants “cross him, cross him” and the enemy general is disgusted with you, but he agrees.
Then he has Jesus whipped.
They make fun of him. They dress him up like a fake king with a crown made from a thorn bush. They blindfold him and punch him and tell him to prophesy who it was.
The march him out to an empty lot by a busy intersection where they like to perform executions in public. They execute him and two criminals. He is dead.
You had still been hoping just a little. But now he’s meat. You feel horrified and betrayed. You also feel afraid. What if they come after the people who cheered him next? You flee home to hide. All the next day you hide there. It all came to nothing. Gloom. Hopelessness. Misery.
The day after is Easter.
You hear a knock on your door. You are scared. You peak out. Remember your mother that died? You hallucinate that its her. The hallucination speaks in your mother’s voice. “It’s me. I’m alive. Touch me” She is shining and beautiful. She comes in and it really is her. She hugs you. She hugs your children. She tells you that she loves you. She says that Jesus has come back to life because he is stronger than death. She says he brought back many of his followers with him. She is radiating happiness. She tells you that death is not the end for anybody. She tells you that you will all be together again. When she leaves, you are crying. You feel like your heart will break with joy.
You rush out to share the news. You aren’t the only one. Other people have seen their loved ones. My husband, one says. My wife. My child. My father. My mother. It is so wonderful. Jesus’ closest friends and associates even say they saw him. There is amazement and awe. There is a feeling of something sacred.
And his friends tell you something else. He made the dead alive again, they say, but he will also make the sinner pure. He will make the broke man whole and the weak man strong. It is certain.
You see those friends change. You weren’t impressed with them before. They were just like you. Now you see them rebuke kings and leaders. You receive your own witness. You also believe.
Brothers and sisters, something happened 2,000 years ago. From nowhere a group of people burst out on the world claiming that they had known the son of God. They were fearless. They were also contagious. They said it with absolute conviction; people heard them and had to believe. Even when those people were gone and their power and priesthood and authority were gone and all that was left were some written accounts, ordinary people still read them and believed even when it meant the arena. With the angry crowds calling for their death in the stands in the arena, they would fall to their knees and sing hymns and thank God that they had heard about this man Jesus. [The remnants of your composure are evaporating.]
The simplest explanation is the one they gave. They saw him. They felt the wounds in his hand. They saw him live again. That simple explanation has shaken the world.
It’s not over, either. Hundreds of Nephites saw him. Mormon saw him. Joseph Smith saw him. He stood on a gold pillar at the Kirtland temple and his voice was like rushing waters and he said he accepted the temple and the saints and would appear to them. He did. He appeared to Lorenzo Snow and other apostles. Ordinary saints have seen him.
You will see him.
You are wrung out.
Back home, your son puts on one sister’s Easter gloves and all three Easter hats, while your wife preps the loaves she’ll bring to your parents for Easter dinner, while you tell your neighbor over the fence that you watered her honeysuckle a little, it was looking dry, and she asks you about your grapes.