The other day I ran across the talk that I gave last year in church on Easter. I thought I’d share it here.
I’d like to begin by sharing two stories that on the surface seem to have little to do with Easter.
The first story is from the beginning of the Book of Mormon. Lehi, a prophet in Jerusalem, is instructed by the Lord to flee in to the wilderness with his family because his life is in danger. As he and his family live in the wilderness for the next many years, two of his sons turn against the Lord, and there is much turmoil within the family, to the point that they have to separate so that they don’t kill each other. Family members die (of old age) and family members are born. One of these is Lehi’s son, Jacob, who grows up to be a prophet himself. When is older, he teaches the people, and he uses some particular wording.
“Yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” 2 Ne 9:10
The use of the word monster has always struck me, and one day I figured out why. Monster isn’t really a prophet word, it’s a child’s word. A child’s word to describe the feeling of brothers fighting, brothers you loved but were also scared of. The feeling of parents being ill and dying. Jacob was born in the wilderness. His first experiences with death and sin were very personal, in the circle of his own family. But isn’t that word accurate? When it comes to people we don’t know, we can be detached. But when it comes to our own families, when we are afraid of losing them, being separated from them forever, don’t we see death and sin as monsters?
We are all on a similar journey, far from home, and surrounded by the prospect of losing our loved ones to death or sin. As mortal beings, we are subject both to physical death, and to spiritual death, or separation from God because of sin. And as mortal beings, there is nothing we can do to free ourselves or others from those prisons. But as Jacob bore testimony, there is a way prepared for our escape, for our rescue.
“O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” 2 Ne 9:10
To illustrate the hope inherent in that escape, I’d like to share the story of a different rescue.
In the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, there were a great number of converts who decided to immigrate to the US to join the Saints in Utah. Once they got to the US, they had to travel across the country. Most went in covered wagons pulled by oxen.
“There were not wagons enough to carry all who were converted in England and western Europe. If they were to come, they would have to walk, pulling a small cart behind them. Hundreds did so, and traveled faster than did the ox teams. But two companies, the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies in 1856 literally walked with death. They started late, and no one knew they were coming. Their carts were not ready. A few who could afford wagons were assigned to travel with them to give assistance. They started west singing as they went. Little did they know what lay ahead of them.
They walked beside the Platte River, ever westward. Near Fort Laramie their troubles began. Snow commenced falling. Their rations were reduced. They knew they were in desperate circumstances as they slowly crept over the high plains of Wyoming. Some 200 perished in that terrible, tragic march.”
There came a point when their situation was most desperate. They were caught in the snow, with little food, and very little hope. Oxen were dying. People were dying. All they could do was pray. Their captain went for help, and when word got to the prophet Brigham Young in Salt Lake he sent help.
From an account at the time, “Just as the sun was sinking beautifully behind the distant hills, on an eminence, immediately west of our camp, several covered wagons, each drawn by four horses, were seen coming towards us. The news ran through the camp like wildfire, and all who were able to leave their beds turned out en masse to see them. A few minutes brought them sufficiently near to reve
al our faithful captain slightly in advance of the train. Shouts of joy rent the air; strong men wept until tears ran freely down their furrowed and sunburnt cheeks, and little children partook of the joy which some of them hardly understood, and fairly danced around with gladness. Restraint was set aside in the general rejoicing, and as the brethren entered [the] camp the sisters fell upon them and deluged them with kisses. The brethren were so overcome that they could not for some time utter a word. ”
Their captain was able to bring help because he knew exactly where they were, and he knew exactly how urgent their need was. Can you imagine the joy of both those being rescued and those rescuing?
Jesus taught, John 14:6 I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
Because Jesus was born of both a mortal and an immortal parent, he was able to break the bands of death and sin through the sacrifice of himself.
Being sinless, he could and did suffer for our sins in Gethsemane. He could pay the price for them, to balance the scales of justice. We know that at that time, he not only suffered for our sins, but for every pain that comes from living in a mortal world- sickness, grief, guilt, anger, disappointment and so many more. All were experienced by him (some for the first time), and their power over us broken. The weight of that agony was enough that “[The] suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit.”
Hanging in unbelievable physical and mental pain upon the cross, he suffered mocking and indignities for hours before voluntarily giving up his life to return to his father. In so doing, he broke the bands of physical death for all of us.
We know this now, but I think of how his disciples must have felt following his death. How they must have held out hope to the very end that he would majestically and triumphantly free himself from where he hung, possibly smiting some of his tormentors. But he didn’t. He died, and they must have been utterly heartbroken, devastated.
One such was Mary Magdalene, who went to the Savior’s tomb on the first day of the week to care for the body of the Lord. I presume she had wept through the Sabbath, and had prepared to say her last goodbyes as she did the holy work of preparing the Savior’s body for its long rest in the tomb.
That grief must have been compounded when she discovered that his body was gone. It must have been so much that the presence of angels and their words, “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here but is risen” didn’t make sense. It wasn’t until she heard her name, being spoken by the person that she had taken to be the gardener, that she realized the glorious truth.
He was risen, as he had promised. He was there, not a ghost, not a vision, but a perfected, flesh and bone resurrected being. He had given up his life and he had taken it up again. I can only imagine her relief, her tears, her hope, her shouts of joy, just as the pioneers- for not only was her Savior, her friend returned to her, she and all of the rest of us had been rescued. Rescued from the permanent loss of our loved ones. Rescued from our grief, our pain, our sin, our death.
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55).
President Ezra Taft Benson said “The pain of death is swallowed up in the peace of eternal life. Of all the events of the chronicles of humanity, none is of such consequence as this. Whenever the cold hand of death strikes, there shines through the gloom and the darkness of that hour the triumphant figure of the Lord Jesus Christ, He, the Son of God, who by his matchless and eternal power overcame death. He is the Redeemer of the world. He gave His life for each of us. He took it up again and became the firstfruits of them that slept. He, as King of Kings, stands triumphant above all other kings. He, as the Omnipotent One, stands above all rulers. He is our comfort, our only true comfort, when the dark shroud of earthly night closes about us as the spirit departs the human form. In the hour of deepest sorrow we draw hope and peace and certitude from the words of the angel that Easter morning, “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said” (Matt. 28:6). We draw strength from the words of Paul, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ … all [are] made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).”
Through the events surrounding that first Easter morning, we can have hope. Hope that we will be reunited with our loved ones. Hope that we and our loved ones can repent. Hope that we can be succored in our grief, in our pain, in our illness, in our weakness. Hope that we do not have to be bound by our mistakes or misdeeds, or those of others. Hope that we can be healed, physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally. Hope that when we are lost, Christ will find us, because He has been exactly where we are, and He knows our name. Hope that we can be rescued.