Easter Conference

Based on a talk given this Sunday in sacrament meeting.

This year, Easter and General Conference are on the same day, which illustrates how we measure time in multiple ways. General Conference is held on the first Sunday in April or October, while Easter, due to the association of Christ’s resurrection with Passover, is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, and sometimes these coincide. We’re used to measuring time or dating events according to a calendar of months and days, while the Passover feast goes back to a time when moon phases and the change in seasons determined the calendar.

Some of the ways we measure time are linear, such as our measurement of years: 2018 will be followed by 2019, and while 2018 will never come back, one year will always be followed by the next. We also measure time in cyclical ways, such as our weekdays. We can meet together to worship and take the sacrament on Sunday without ever running out of Sundays; every seven days, another Sunday will come around again. Easter too is part of an annual cycle that measures the year based on the life of Jesus Christ. We see an attenuated version in the U.S., but in other countries, it’s easier to see how the four Sundays of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany are associated with Christ’s birth; how Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, and other holidays are associated with his death and resurrections; and how Ascension and Pentecost commemorate Christ’s postmortal ministry and early events in church history.

The Atonement plays a role in other ways of measuring time as well, including in the spiritual history of our own lives. A human life is not quite linear. While each passing day will never return, our lives have a definite beginning and end in a way the sequence of calendar years doesn’t. One of the earliest events in the spiritual lives of many people is baptism, which points both to Christ’s baptism, an early event of his ministry, and to his death and resurrection, one of its final events. Confirmation and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost marks the beginning of our church membership, just as the first Pentecost was one of the initial events in the incipient Christian church.

Yet another way to measure time is not according to a year or a lifespan, but by the whole scope of salvation history. From this perspective, there are only three events that matter: the Creation and Fall at the beginning, the Second Coming and Last Judgment yet to come, and the Crucifixion and Resurrection as the central event of world history. Among a fractious Christian world, there is widespread agreement about remembering the life and mission of Jesus Christ in weekly services, in baptism, and annually at Easter.

We also use the history of the church to structure time, but in different ways. As we read the scriptures, we can see that the church—the structure for teaching the gospel, conducting ordinances, and prophesying—has taken many different forms. Sometimes the form has been as simple as Adam and Eve teaching their children, or Adam offering sacrifices at a stone altar; other times it has been as complicated as the priesthood orders in the temple of Solomon with their prescribed implements and vestments for conducting sacrifices. Sometimes the church hasn’t been tied to any location or edifice at all but has been mobile, such as it was with Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness, or even in modern times at points during the nineteenth century. Sometimes the church has gone forth in vigor and confidence, as when the resurrected Christ gave the command to preach and baptize throughout the world; at other times, the church has been one prophet in despair, thinking that he alone was left after all others had rejected the Lord, or whose last mission was to record the final destruction of his people. (One thing we might learn from this is that things are usually not as well organized, or entirely as bleak, as they might seem.)

The history of the church since the time of Christ is sometimes treated as a triumphant story whose lesson is: evil persecuted good, but good will overcome evil. The Book of Mormon teaches a different perspective: evil persecuted good, and good was overthrown; but good will rise again. The Nephites’ fall into wickedness and downfall as a people glosses Christian history by suggesting that something similar was going on in the Old World at the same time. And in fact some people have asked themselves at various points in history: where is Christ’s church today? There have been people who would have paid any price for what we have today: a restored church with authority to baptize and prophets who can speak in God’s name and reveal his will.

It is this history of the Restoration that also structures our lives. The First Vision was not a one-time event, but a pattern upon which our catechetical efforts, proselytizing, and ecclesiastic direction our based. Joseph Smith, seeking wisdom, read the scriptures and then retired to the woods to pray; we ask our children to develop their own testimony in the same way, and our missionaries extend the same invitation to everyone they talk to, and we are taught to pray and seek inspiration in all our church roles and functions. Our spiritual lives as members of the church begin with baptism, just as baptism marked the new spiritual lives of church members in 1830, while the path through the various salvific ordinances culminates in the temple liturgy, some of the last things restored by Joseph Smith.

We pause at various times to remember the history of the restored church, perhaps on Pioneer Day or as a trek participant. But above all General Conference provides us an opportunity to hear directly from the prophet, apostles, and general authorities, to sustain them, and to participate as members in a worldwide church. Next week we have the rare opportunity to celebrate the double good news of an eternal Atonement and the restoration of the church in our time. We should pause to think about how fortunate we are that we can celebrate both of them together.

4 comments for “Easter Conference

  1. In general, amen. On one point, divergence.

    “The Book of Mormon teaches a different perspective: evil persecuted good, and good was overthrown; but good will rise again.”

    This strikes me as very oversimplified, though I believe I owe you the benefit of the doubt.

    I’m not sure how much we emphasize the situation of the Christian church (this enumeration is likely not a tacit or universal understanding among LDS itself) in the Book of Mormon.

    It is a popular belief for those in the Constantinian Christian tradition to consider themselves “under siege” on a regular basis, from being a very minority religion in Judea and surrounds to the Crusades, Protestant Reformation, and so on.

    This is a mythology, only partially true. The view of the Book of Mormon church also under siege, beginning with Nephi’s assessment of his brothers and their descendants, is a similar mythology in my view, though for different reasons.

    I see Nephi as a person who diligently followed the commandments of the Lord, even those given through his father; Laman and company, not so much, which is a bit of an understatement.

    However, as we follow the various narrative voices/views in the B of M, we see a more complex circumstance. Quite often, the enemies of the church come from within Nephite society, and the church itself. Even the greatest political foes are Nephites themselves.

    The Lamanites are certainly competitors, even enemies at times. But the church and Nephite society are ultimately undone from within.

    The history of the LDS church in its restoration and formation shows similar patterns, where some of the worst enemies were former church members. I do not share this under-siege view today as many LDS members see it; I believe the church’s greatest enemies will come from within.

    I certainly see the Constantinian tradition as a persistent threat to the LDS church, despite any brotherly pretense. Much of the “psychological warfare” still comes from the evangelical portions among the Constantinians.

    “A bible, a bible, we already have a bible,” is still a common response to missionary efforts in certain places. Complacency is still a corrosive danger to the church, as is lack of unity on a national and international scale involving church members on political right and left.

    I don’t bring this up to undermine the OP, so please forgive me if that’s how my words come across. I just feel that funnel vision befits LDS people better than tunnel vision, especially at times of the General Conference.

  2. Jonathan, Thank you for this.

    One thing: re “We see an attenuated version in the U.S., but in other countries, it’s easier to see how the four Sundays of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany are associated with Christ’s birth; how Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, and other holidays are associated with his death and resurrections; and how Ascension and Pentecost commemorate Christ’s postmortal ministry and early events in church history.” Except for the fact that some European countries (probably some others as well) have civil holidays associated with various liturgical calendar events, I don’t see the attenuated version as a U.S. issue, but rather as a non-liturgical/low church issue. Our church definitely falls in that low church category. In Episcopal, Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic and some other churches in the U.S. it is quite easy to “see how the four Sundays of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany are associated with Christ’s birth; how Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, and other holidays are associated with his death and resurrections; and how Ascension and Pentecost commemorate Christ’s postmortal ministry and early events in church history.” I miss that focus in our church, but lately around here we’ve had much more talk about Advent, Palm Sunday and Good Friday than previously. I haven’t yet heard of any of our local or other leaders acknowledging Epiphany, Maundy Thursday, Pentecost, or other elements of the traditional Christian calendar. I think sometimes they don’t know what those are and haven’t perceived their usefulness in focusing our minds on Christ.

    I’m glad to be reminded that some find us fortunate that we can celebrate both Easter and the restoration together when the General Conference schedule collides with Easter. It has unfortunate aspects as well in preventing local ward and stake celebrations of Easter and thus contributing to our neighbors’ impression that we are not a Christian church. But at least it has been years here since we had a raucous ward party on Good Friday to our Christian neighbors’ consternation. I will hope for an Easter focus in at least one session of General conference.

  3. An interesting post Jonathan.

    I agree with JR It is very unfortunate that we don’t have the opportunity to celebrate Easter, the day that Jesus rose from the tomb and delivered to us the certainty of eternal life. This day, above all other days, is the day for us to be in fellowship, as were the Nephites in 3 Nephi 11, sharing one with another the things that we have seen and head concerning Jesus and His Resurrection.

    The problem with Easter is that we celebrate its as an “Atonement Day” that can be easily addressed in General Conference. It is not. We conflate Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday into one whole, and that does not fit. It’s certainly easier to do, and it allows us to escape liturgical practices that are foreign to most Mormons. However, we miss the details and the journey of each event from Calvary to the tomb to the world of spirits to the glory of the empty tomb. We need to separate the parts of Christ’s ministry and focus on the journey that He went through. I’m more on the high-church side of this question, (and would love services on Good Friday and Holy Saturday) but I think that a proper Easter Celebration of the Resurrection would add considerably to the hope that we fell through Christ Jesus.

    That said, General Conference is necessary for the Church as Jonathan explains well. The Restoration was necessary. We simply should not have those two ideas as our focus on Easter (and that includes both Orthodox Easter and Western Easter). We should focus solely on the Resurrection of the Lord.

    As an aside, the same logic goes for mixing Christmas services and Advent with the birthday of Joseph Smith, a practice that continues to occur with depressing regularity.

  4. A lot of false dichotomies here in the comments. If we think Jesus and the Spirit guide talks, do we think He disapproves of the talks given? Just because we don’t have 20 consecutive passionate discourses on His atonement doesn’t mean He isn’t satisfied. We both have lots of areas to improve to become more like Him. I don’t think he minds a talk on repentance, faith, sacrifice, overcoming addiction, properly ministering with his power, etc. All these things are why He was willing to be the infinite sacrifice in the first place.

    That said, there is definitely room for improvement among the Saints in family practice. I took a class from Eric Huntsman in college and my wife has spearheaded a day-by-day type observance beginning with Palm Sunday. It seems like many other younger families are doing this right now, so there is still hope Andrew. :)

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