Death and I didn’t interact very much when I was young. My association with loss was limited to an occasional goldfish or a family pet, or the horrific run-in between our dog and the recently hatched baby chick I brought home from school.
As I got older, I encountered death more often – an unfamiliar relative, or neighbor. Then, it began to become more personal: A friend, an extended family member, or a grandparent.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that the full impact of death touched me. In 1999, my mother went out shopping on Thanksgiving weekend, and came back home in pain. Just a few days later we gathered around her hospital bed and bid her farewell.
It was a different kind of parting than I had ever experienced before – the kind of parting that crushes the heart.
Three years later, my father joined my mom. And then, the very next year, my older brother died as well. Suddenly, I went from limited familiarity with death to losing half of my immediate family.
My EC, Chrissie, encountered the tragedy of death at an earlier point in her life than I did, as she bid her cancer-stricken sister farewell as a teenager. Her father died the same year as my mother, and her mother joined them three years ago.
We know death, as do most of you. I know many of you have reached beyond my limited experience. I know some of you here today have lost a child, or a spouse. Some of you have had much heartache and loss. Others have been spared a great deal of such heartache – for now. But it will come. It always does.
It hurts. Losing those we love is painful. It is supposed to be.
The Lord instructed us through Joseph Smith: “Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die…” (D&C 42:45)
Notice the words the Lord chose: He doesn’t say we might weep, or it would be ok if we cry a little. He said, “thou shalt weep.” He wants us to love deeply, and he wants it to be deep enough that we feel the loss.
Joseph Smith spoke of this pain when he said, “If I have no expectation of seeing my father, mother, brothers, sisters and friends again, my heart would burst in a moment, and I should go down to my grave.”
I think that most of us understand what he means.
Today, on Easter Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We commemorate the day that he rose from the tomb as an immortal God by breaking the bonds of death. It was, and is, an amazing event.
When we speak of big events, we often think of more worldly things like a Super Bowl, the Final Four, or some other trivial occasion.
President Ezra Taft Benson described what makes an event great or not. He explained “that the greatest events of history are those which affect the greatest number for the longest periods of time.”
The greatest number of people, for the longest period of time. With that definition, we move from sporting events and movie premiers to events like World War II, or the discovery of electricity – those type of events have impacted millions of people for decades.
But President Benson goes on to definitively state that by this standard, “no event could be more important to individuals or nations than the Resurrection of the Master. The eventual resurrection of every soul who has lived and died on earth is a scriptural certainty, and surely there is no event for which one should make more careful preparation. Nothing is more absolutely universal than the resurrection. Every living being will be resurrected. (link)
More recently, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “But of all the things for which I feel grateful, I am most thankful this Easter morning for the gift of my Lord and my Redeemer. This is Easter, when, with all of Christendom, we commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This was not an ordinary thing. It was the greatest event in human history. I do not hesitate to say that.“ (link)
The resurrection impacts every single person who ever lived, or who will ever live. Forever. The scale of this event cannot be overstated. Everyone. Forever.
Paul explained the universality of the resurrection: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).
Throughout history, people have searched for immortality. Ponce de Leon sought the Fountain of Youth. Indiana Jones and Monty Python both searched for the Holy Grail. Do you recall when the Frenchman taunted King Arthur from the castle wall by telling him, (among other things) that “We’ve already got one?” He was part-way correct.
The irony is that all of us already have been given the gift of immortality – we just haven’t needed to use it yet. We have this gift because of our Savior. An additional irony is that the only thing we need to do to achieve immortality is die, or for a couple of you, get translated.
Today I would like to talk about two things that the doctrine of resurrection can do for us. Specifically how immortality can bless our current life – and not merely our afterlife.
1) The Resurrection Offers Us Hope
After Joseph Smith spoke of how his heart would burst, he added that “The expectation of seeing my friends in the morning of the resurrection cheers my soul and makes me bear up against the evils of life. It is like their taking a long journey, and on their return we meet them with increased joy.”
The hope of seeing my parents and my brother again cheers my soul as well, and lessens the sting of death. There is no better way to get a sense of this hope than in attending an LDS funeral – the balance between joy and grief is vastly different than the funeral services of any other faith I have attended.
The prophet Abinadi taught “And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection.”
“But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ. … Even this mortal shall put on immortality and this corruption shall put on incorruption,..(Mosiah 16:6–8, 10.)
Beyond cheering his soul, Joseph Smith said the knowledge of the resurrection, “makes me bear up against the evils of life.” This hope gives us strength to endure.
To all of you who have lost loved ones – you can have this hope and strength as well because the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Without our understanding of the resurrection, where would we find ourselves? We would find ourselves lost in the same confusion as the millions – scratch that BILLIONS – of God’s children on the earth who either get it wrong, or don’t get it at all. Billions of God’s children think that they might come back and get another crack at mortality – until they get it right – billions more think that when they pass on, their conscience will just dissipate into space. Sadder still, are the many who think that when this life ends – it just ends. Period. We go from something, to nothing. We go from being “us” with our thoughts and dreams and passions, to…nothing. Darkness.
Instead, on Easter Sunday, we find ourselves thinking and talking about the knowledge of our own immortality – a gift that only comes through, and because of, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
2) The Resurrection Offers Us Purpose
But before I get into that in a personal way, I’d like to take a more theological perspective. How important is the resurrection in our faith?
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared:
“The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it” (link)
How can that be? How can Christ’s death and resurrection be the foundation of our faith? How can everything else we teach be merely extra stuff?
Simple. Without immortality, it all falls apart. If it all ends when we die, there is no point to any of this.
• Without immortality, there is no need for the Spirit of Elijah, There is no need for family history. There is no need for temples. All of those hours indexing, and researching, and performing sacred ordinance in the temple would be wasted.
• Without immortality, there is no need for baptism, repentance, or forgiveness, other than making this life a little more comfortable. The ordinances of the Gospel become pointless. Obedience becomes merely a lifestyle choice.
• Without immortality, there is no need for an Atonement.
• Without immortality, The plan of salvation would fall to pieces.
• Without immortality, God’s own work and glory would be thwarted. “…to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (link)
• There would be no need of a celestial kingdom – or any other kingdom – there would be no eternal increase or glory, because no body would achieve a resurrected glory to qualify for any kingdom. It would all just end.
Just death. Just darkness.
Which returns us to how so many of God’s children already feel about this life – that it just. ends.
The Resurrection is at the core of our beliefs as Latter-day saints, and as Christians. Without it, our faith is meaningless. The Apostle Paul pointed this out a long time ago, “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and our faith is also vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
Basically, if it all ends here – what is the point? Seriously. Why even show up!
Oddly, there are those in the Christian world that today teach that the resurrection did not really happen – that is just a faith-inspiring story, and not to be taken literally. And fewer and fewer Christians believe that they, themselves, will actually experience a real-live resurrection.
Without immortality, religion merely becomes a self-help book full of good advice. President Howard W. Hunter said that, “Without the resurrection, the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes a litany of wise sayings, and unexplainable miracles. But sayings and miracles with no ultimate triumph.” (link)
But, because of the resurrection, the gospel of Jesus Christ can serve as the way back to our Father in Heaven. The resurrection does give purpose to the gospel – and the church, the ordinances, the temples, the scriptures, the prophets and all the “appendages” that Joseph Smith referred to. They are real, and needed.
From a more personal standpoint, the knowledge and promise of the resurrection can give us drive and purpose. Have you ever audited a class in college? That means you take the class, but you are just attending to learn. You don’t have to take the tests, or do the homework, and there is no Final Exam at the end, and you don’t receive a grade. How do you suppose you would do in such a class? To me, it would be a colossal waste of time. I need a goalpost. I need a purpose.
There is an acronym in Pop Culture called YOLO – it stands for “You Only Live Once.” It is an expression that can be inspiring, or destructive, depending on your eternal perspective. It can be seen as a modern-day equivalent of what Nephi prophesied thousands of years ago. “Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.” (2 Nephi 28:7) It is a near-sighted approach to an immortal life.
Again I would ask, if when we die, it is all over, then what is the point of any of this? Why sit and listen to me at all? It is a lovely day outside – why not hit the lake, or the links? It would be perfectly understandable, yet perfectly wrong. But it does help us to understand why the world seems to be experiencing a downward spiral of near-sightedness and selfishness that probably won’t end until the Savior comes.
The resurrection is not figurative. It is real. Immortality is not merely an idea – it is a promise. Guaranteed.
And that changes everything.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives purpose and meaning to who we are and what we do. Every good deed, every commandment kept, every moment on our knees is a testimony that we believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The simple fact that we are here today, partaking of the sacrament testifies that we believe in our own eventual immortality, and in Christ’s resurrection.
Stop and think about how much of our days, our weeks, and our lives are a reflection of this testimony. Why else would I send my sons to far-away lands to preach the gospel? Why would we give our time, talents and possessions to the Church if we thought that we might just “vanish” for eternity?
The promise of the resurrection and the hope of immortality changes me. It changes how I raise my kids. It changes how I spend my time. It changes what I think about, and it changes everything else – at least it should change everything else. And, at its core, this knowledge changes my realationship with God.
Why would we bother to make it a life quest to get to know our elder brother Jesus Christ if we had no expectation of ever meeting him?
But that is the beauty of the promise of the resurrection: We will meet Him. All of us will have that sacred moment. And we will account for what we did with our lives here on earth. Without immortality, that idea would be meaningless, as well as powerless.
There is great power in our testimony of the resurrection of Jesus. It changes lives. It changes our lives. The hope of the resurrection makes me bear up against the evils of life.
For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy; And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy. (D&C 93:33-34)
The promise of Easter is that we can receive a fullness of joy. Our spirits and bodies will be joined again. Guaranteed. I want a fulness of joy.
This beautiful Easter Sunday, I testify that Christ lives. I testify that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven. He who was once dead is dead no more. Because of this miracle, we will live again. All of us. It is the greatest event in human history, and should give purpose to all that we do.
I look forward to the grand reunion with my loved ones. My mom, my dad, my brother, and so many others, and especially a face-to-face reunion with my Savior. The hope of the resurrection cheers my heart.