In April of 1999, when President Hinckley announced that the Nauvoo Temple would be rebuilt, some say they heard an audible gasp in the tabernacle. Across the church, wherever people were gathered around a TV screen listening, the amazement echoed in tears and hugs and near disbelief. Rebuilding the Nauvoo Temple meant so much more than putting stone upon stone; it was a message about loss and resurrection, about a driven people arising from the ashes to reclaim the vision. And somehow we never thought it would be, that this loss would stay like an old ache.
Cut us open and there is the trail, Emma Lou Thayne once said. Cut deeper and there is the poignant story of a white temple, built to express a yearning for the Lord that a people would be forced to abandon. But the yearning stays. “Next year in Jerusalem,” the exiled Jews told each other at Passover. Temple memories wistfully bound them. For us, Latter-day Saints spread across the world, we remember a people who rushed to build a temple as they cured hickory to make wagons that would take them away. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.”
We know Nauvoo. We cannot count the times we have been at the temple lot, where the only mementos of a people’s hope and sacrifice were lines of stones in a sunken grass lot. We have seen the Nauvoo homes made of temple rock scavenged from its remains, marked like fossils with the past.
So that first impression driving up the Mississippi river road and seeing a glowing temple on the hill where a sunken lot had been was a fulfillment that seemed as large as scriptural promise to us. Waste places are transformed to gardens. The barren yields fruit. The scattered are gathered. Against all odds and every impossibility, when hope is dashed and graves are scattered along a wilderness trail west, the promise that seemed forgotten is fulfilled.
“For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel” (2 Nephi 21:15).
When I saw that temple, lit like a heavenly being against the darkness, I knew again that God does not forget his children. The Nauvoo temple did not seem like a restoration to me. Calling it “rebuilt” does not capture what happened here. Seeing it first at night as I did, golden light spilling out its windows, only the word resurrection truly fit.