A transcendent vision 

Elder Bruce R. McConkie had an incredible way with words. He was able to convey doctrinal truth in a way that really reached out and grabbed the listener. In October 1975, Elder McConkie spoke about an event of transcendent importance in an utterly unforgettable fashion. He focused his considerable rhetorical talents on explaining the significant of the first vision.

Elder McConkie first noted that events of such sigificance only occur rarely in human history:

“Once or twice in a thousand years–perhaps a dozen times since mortal man became of dust a living soul–an event of such transcendent import occurs that neither heaven nor earth are ever thereafter the same.”

Elder McConkie then mentioned a few such moments. In particular, the fall, the flood, and “most transcendent of all” the atonement and resurrection of Christ.

Interestingly, Elder McConkie emphasized that such events are rarely the types of miracles that occur prominently in the public eye. Flashy manipulations of the laws of nature may be impressive, but they are not nearly as significant:

“Now and then in a quiet garden, or amid the fires and thunders of Sinai, or inside a sepulchre that cannot be sealed, or in an upper room–almost always apart from the gaze of men and seldom known by more than a handful of people–the Lord intervenes in the affairs of men and manifests his will relative to their salvation.”

Turning to the First Vision, Elder McConkie emphasized that many of the greatest miracles from the scriptures could both compare in terms of significance:

“By comparison to what then occurred, the command of the man Moriancumer unto the mountain Zerin, “Remove,” and it was removed; or the decree of the man Moses to the Red Sea, “Divide,” and the waters were divided, congealing on the right hand and on the left; or the command of the man Joshua, “Sun, stand thou still, and thou moon likewise,” and it was so–by comparison to what happened in that grove of trees in western New York on that spring morning, such things as these fade into an obscure insignificance.”

For members of the Church, the First Vision represents the first glorious outpouring of revelation at the dawn of a new day of restoration. Therefore, to understand the significance we must also understand the dark apostasy that proceeded the restoration:

That year of grace, 1820, like the 1,400 years which preceded it, was one in which darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the minds of the people. It was a day of spiritual darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains. Angels no longer ministered to their fellow beings; the voice of God was stilled, and man no longer saw the face of his Maker; gifts, signs, miracles, and all the special endowments enjoyed by the saints of old were no longer the common inheritance of those in whose hearts religious zeal was planted. There were no visions, no revelations, no rending of the heavens; the Lord was not raining down righteousness upon a chosen people as he had done in days of old.”

In the midst of that darkness, God prepared one single child to be a vessel of restoration. He placed that child in a land of liberty and in the midst of religious turmoil. And “[i]t was at this critical point that divine providence caused a ray of living light to shine forth from God’s holy word and enlighten the heart of the troubled truthseeker.”

Joseph’s humble prayer would “usher in the greatest era of light and truth ever to exist on earth.” For “[t]he light of the gospel, the light of the Everlasting Word, would soon shed its rays o’er all the earth.”

That moment changed the world forever. It also changed my life forever.

“Thereupon the heavens parted and the veil was rent; the heavens, long brass, poured out showers of blessings; the age of light and truth and revelation and miracles and salvation was born.

The place, the hour, the need, the man, and the divine destiny all united to usher in God’s great latter-day work. The heavens did not shake, nor the earth tremble. It was not an event heralded by the thunders and clouds on Sinai but one patterned after the calm serenity and peace present before an open tomb when Mary of Magdala uttered the reverent cry, “Rabboni,” to the risen Lord.

This was the occasion when the greatest vision ever vouchsafed to man of which we have record burst the gloom of solemn darkness. The gods of old revealed themselves anew.”

What a glorious vision and what glorious light!

“Great God in heaven above–what wonders do we now behold! The heavens rend; the veil parts; the Creators of the universe come down; the Father and the Son both speak to mortal man. The voice of God is heard again: he is not dead; he lives and speaks; his words we hear as they were heard in olden days.”

 

The Lord Needs You

Amulek is one of my favorite characters in the Book of Mormon.  I love his willingness to drop everything to serve when called of God. I love how he overcame years of doubt or inaction and became a valiant witness of Christ. I mourn with him as he was forced to watch those he love suffer and rejoice with him as his newfound faith give him strength.

I was therefore overjoyed to see President Uchtdorf speak about lessons we can learn from the story of Alma and Amulek. And his talk revealed to me a new dimension of the story that I had not picked up on. In particular, he focused on the trust that the Lord, and Alma, put in Amulek even though he was untested and perhaps even could be said to be inactive.

President Uchtdorf emphasized that like Alma we will regularly need to reach out to those who might not at first glance seem prepared:

“In whatever position you currently serve–whether you are a deacons quorum president, a stake president, or an Area President–to be successful, you must find your Amuleks.

It may be someone who is unassuming or even invisible within your congregations. It may be someone who seems unwilling or unable to serve. Your Amuleks may be young or old, men or women, inexperienced, tired, or not active in the Church. But what may not be seen at first sight is that they are hoping to hear from you the words “The Lord needs you! I need you!”

Deep down, many want to serve their God. They want to be an instrument in His hands. They want to thrust in their sickle and strive with their might to prepare the earth for the return of our Savior. They want to build His Church. But they are reluctant to begin. Often they wait to be asked.”

And then of course, I loved President Uchtdorf’s strong reassurance to those who may doubt their capacity to serve:

“Perhaps, like Amulek, you know in your heart that the Lord has “called [you] many times,” but you “would not hear.”

Nevertheless, the Lord sees in you what He saw in Amulek–the potential of a valiant servant with an important work to do and with a testimony to share. There is service that no one else can give in quite the same way. The Lord has trusted you with His holy priesthood, which holds the divine potential to bless and lift others. Listen with your heart and follow the promptings of the Spirit.”

What a beautiful talk and what a needed reminder that God sees us far differently than we sometimes see ourselves.

Quickly Quickened by the Spirit

In April 1975, President Boyd K. Packer issued a powerful invitation to less active members of the church and in particular to those who had never received the Melchizedek Priesthood. His words however also resonated with me as a convert to the Church. He spoke of compensatory power from the Lord that allows us to quickly overcome time that we have spent away from the divine truth’s of the Gospel. His message was therefore one of encouragement and a reminder that it is never too late to come back.
“If you will return to the environment where spiritual truths are spoken, there will flood back into your minds the things that you thought were lost. Things smothered under many years of disuse and inactivity will emerge. Your ability to understand them will be quickened.

That word quickened is much used in the scriptures, you know.

If you will make your pilgrimage back among the Saints, soon you will be understanding once again the language of inspiration. And more quickly than you know, it will seem that you have never been away. Oh, how important it is for you to realize that if you will return, it can be made as though you have never been away.”

Elder Packer told the story of a 74 year old who had just joined the Church and was filled with regrets:

“Then, almost in tears, he poured out his regret. ‘Why did I not find it until now? My life is over. My children are all raised and gone, and it is just too late for me to learn the gospel.’

What a joy it was to explain to him one of the great miracles that occurs over and over again is the transformation of those who join the Church. (Or I might say of those who rejoin the Church.) They are in the world and they are of the world, and then the missionaries find them. Though they are in the world thereafter, they are not of the world. Very quickly in their thinking and in their feelings and in their actions, it is as though they had been members of the Church all of their lives.

This is one of the great miracles of this work. The Lord has a way of compensating and blessing. He is not confined to the tedious processes of communication and He is not limited to Japanese or English.

There is a sacred process by which pure intelligence may be conveyed into our minds and we can come to know instantly things that otherwise would take a long period of time to acquire. He can speak inspiration into our minds, especially when we are humble and seeking.”

For me these words resonate with my experiences. When I first joined, I felt filled with power and light as I quickly comprehended the truth of the Gospel. And I saw the same transformation in those I taught as a missionary. I take great comfort in that promise when I think about my father learning about the Gospel in the spirit world and contemplate how he must have been changed by his experiences.

God knows that we all have great potential to be transformed through the spirit and the power of the Gospel. It is Satan that wants us to doubt and be filled with apprehension 

True and Faithful: D&C 13 (The Gospel of Repentance)

1 Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.
Imagine the joy that Joseph and Oliver must have felt when they were given the priesthood power. Joseph had long wondered about his state with God and what he would need to do to be saved. That same inquiry led him to his knees and led to the first vision. That same inquiry about baptism led them out to the woods to pray. And now, an angelic being appeared and bestowed on them priesthood authority to baptize unto repentance.

I love the idea that the priesthood holds keys for the Gospel of repentance. While people have repented and been forgiven without priesthood on the earth, the priesthood provides a god sanctioned conduit for divine repentance. It allows us to make our repentance manifest through the ordinance of baptism. Therefore, the Aaronic priesthood is intimately connected to the Doctrine of repentance. 

True and Faithful: D&C 12 (Sharper than a Two-Edged Sword)

2 Behold, I am God; give heed to my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow; therefore, give heed unto my word.
This metaphor is quite graphic but also profound. It reminds me of another favorite in the Book of Mormon:

“5 And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just–yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them–therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.”

The word of god pierces deep into our joints and into our very essence. It resonated deeply with something eternal within us. Therefore, when we hear divine truth we cannot ignore it. It tugs upon us and draws us towards it. We can of course reject it. We can return to ignorance. We can continue to hold on to the doctrines of man. But we are forever impacted by having come into contact with divine and eternal truth.

True and Faithful: D&C 11 (Trust in that Spirit)

12 And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good–yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.
13 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy;

This is one of my favorite depictions of the influence of the spirit. The influence of the spirit leads us to do good, to treat others justly, to subvert our pride, and to judge righteously. Such feelings are from God. On the other hand, feelings of unjust dominion and pride are certainly from the adversary. This doesn’t mean that all judgment is bad or that we can never call out sin. But when influenced by the spirit, our desires will align with God and we will know that we are acting on his behalf. There is simply a big difference in how it feels. And we can trust in that difference because it will fill us with true joy and a feeling of enlightenment.

Skeptics suggest that the feeling of the spirit is just wishful thinking and our own desires. Those who have been led by the spirit to act against their deepest held beliefs and instincts know otherwise.

The Cross the the Empty Tomb

President Gordon B. Hinckley gave a moving talk about the resurrection of the Savior in response to a question about why we do not use the cross as a symbol in the Church. As I reflected on the one year anniversary of my father’s passage, his words really struck me.

He emphasized the sorrow and despair that filled the heart of Christ’s followers as he suffered on the cross and when he was laid down in the tomb. The apostles had not yet truly understood. They had not yet grasped the fact that Christ was to be conqueror over death itself. 

“We cannot forget that. We must never forget it, for here our Savior, our Redeemer, the Son of God, gave himself a vicarious sacrifice for each of us. But the gloom of that dark evening before the Jewish Sabbath, when his lifeless body was taken down and hurriedly laid in a borrowed tomb, drained away the hope of even his most ardent and knowing disciples. They were bereft, not understanding what he had told them earlier. Dead was the Messiah in whom they believed. Gone was their Master in whom they had placed all of their longing, their faith, their hope. He who had spoken of everlasting life, he who had raised Lazarus from the grave, now had died as surely as all men before him had died. Now had come the end to his sorrowful, brief life. That life had been as Isaiah had long before foretold: He was ‘despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.'”

Unlike the disciples, we have no excuses for forgetting the glorious truth. Christ has risen from the dead. Therefore we know that we will rise again. Yet, we often live our lives as if that is not true. We sorrow or feel aggrieved as if there is no promise of eternal life. 

It is the miracle of the empty tomb that makes Christianity worthwhile. Without that promise, we would have no source of joy or consolation, and no reason to hope for tomorrow. We would be like all other men except even more miserable still. We would be following a false messiah and a mere mortal. But fortunately, that is not the case.

“On Calvary he was the dying Jesus. From the tomb he emerged the living Christ. The cross had been the bitter fruit of Judas’ betrayal, the summary of Peter’s denial. The empty tomb now became the testimony of His divinity, the assurance of eternal life, the answer to Job’s unanswered question: “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14.)

      Having died, he might have been forgotten, or, at best, remembered as one of many great teachers whose lives are epitomized in a few lines in the books of history. Now, having been resurrected, he became the Master of Life. Now, with Isaiah, his disciples could sing with certain faith: “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” …      

      Well did Mary cry, “Rabboni!” (John 20:16) when first she saw the risen Lord, for master now he was in very deed, master not only of life, but of death itself. Gone was the sting of death, broken the victory of the grave.”
Knowing Christ has risen gives me such great comfort and reassurance. I know that this life is not the end. I know that I will one day see my dad again. I know that we will rise again in the flesh and be able to embrace each other once more. That is all possible because of an empty tomb and a savior who rose above the stain of the cross.