When I was growing up, the week before Easter was a major focus of worship for my Protestant teacher and friend, Vera. She and her family called it “Holy Week.” I’m missing her today; she died several years ago. I’m also missing hearing her tell about her Easter preparations. Something deep inside me is longing to be more aware, worshipful, and focused on the wonder and meaning of Christ’s Atonement, death, and resurrection.
The book The Infinite Atonement gave me so much more understanding of the vast importance of the events we celebrate this Easter Season. With Tad Callister’s permission, I want to share some quotes from Chapter 7, which he called, “The Consequences If There Had Been No Atonement.”
“What might have been, even for the ‘righteous’ If there had been no atoning sacrifice, stirs the very depths of human emotion.
“First, there would be no resurrection, or as suggested in the explicit language of Jacob: ‘This flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more’ (2 Nephi 9:7).
“Secondly, our spirit would become subject to the devil. He would have ‘all power over you’ and ‘seal you his’ (Alma 34:35). In fact we would become like him, even ‘angels to a devil’ (2 Nephi 9:9).
“Third, we would be ‘shut out from the presence of our God’ (2 Nephi 9:9), to remain forever with the father of lies.
“Fourth, we would be without hope, for ‘if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. . . . If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable’ (1 Corinthians 15:14).
“. . . If there had been no Atonement, the rising of every sun would be a reminder that for us it would one day rise no more, that for each of us death would claim its victory, and the grave would have its sting. Every death would be a tragedy, and every birth but a tragedy in embryo. The culmination of love between husband and wives, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters would perish in the grave, to rise no more. Without the Atonement, futility would replace purpose, hopelessness would be exchanged for hope, and misery would be traded for happiness. If there were no Atonement, Elder Marion G. Romney declared, ‘The whole purpose for the creation of earth and our living upon it would fail.’ (Conference Report, Oct. 1953, 34.) (Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2000, 54-57.)
Is there any way we can comprehend the importance of what Jesus did for us? Is there any way we can sufficiently express our gratitude?
Palm Sunday and Lent
As I type these words it is “Palm Sunday,” the Sunday before Easter, when many Christians celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city, the day when the multitude waved palm branches and shouted Hosannas. I want to wave palm branches and shout Hosannas too! I want to focus my thoughts and study on the Risen Lord.
Because of my positive experiences with Vera, I was motivated to go online and research Christian traditions for the preparatory celebrating of Easter.
Here are some of the things I learned: 1) Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and continues through Holy Thursday—when the Sacrament was instituted at the Last Supper—and Good Friday, when Jesus was tried, crucified, and buried.
2) Scripture reading: When facing temptation in the desert, Jesus relied on scripture to counter the wiles of the devil. It is a formidable weapon for us as well.
3) Lent (the 40-day period before Easter Sunday) is to be a season that includes fasting (which is usually defined as having only one meal a day), self-denial, spiritual growth, conversion, and simplicity.
Lent comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime. I loved the idea that it can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory, and cleaning out anything which could hinder our relationship with Jesus Christ and our service to Him. Lent is a time of stripping down to essentials, as each Christian focuses on his or her individual relationship with God. Lent represents a spiritual training time to overcome evil. The goal is to transform the entire person: body, soul, and spirit, to become more like Christ. (Surely this is a fitting goal for any of us!)
Many traditions associated with Lent have a long history, such as fasting, almsgiving (which they define as service of any kind), reading the scriptures, and prayer. (Again, all practices which are not only appropriate, but also essential to all of us.
In one of the online sites, author Dennis Bratcher had some interesting thoughts on Lent and Easter. He said that Lent is a way to place ourselves before God in a humbled state, a way to empty ourselves of false pride and rationalizations that blind us to the beam in our own eyes.
He indicates that through prayer we can hear anew the call “Come unto me!” We can recognize and respond afresh to God’s presence in our lives and in our world. As we place our needs, our fears, our failures, our hopes, our very lives in God’s hands, again we can come to worship Him on Easter Sunday with a fresh victory and hope. (Dennis Bratcher, online, Copyright © 2010.)
Dennis says, however, that it is too easy to focus on only the high points of Palm Sunday and Easter without walking with Jesus through the darkness of Gethsemane and Golgotha. I want to tell you about an amazing woman who has been taking that walk with Him.
Debbie Avila, my e-mail friend who suffers from muscular dystrophy and is on a respirator, wrote last week about her approach to the Easter season. She said, “Studying about the last week of Jesus’ life has brought me many insights. Five tiny verses (Luke 22:40-44) have been my focus: ‘And when he was at the place [the Garden of Gethsemane], he said unto them [Peter, James and John], Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.’”
Debbie continued, “Absorbing these verses, I come a little nearer to understanding Him—and myself. I realized that the Angel did not appear until Jesus reached the shoreline of personal and developed faith and strength. Only when He gave up His entire self, wept, and uttered, ‘nevertheless, not my will, but thine’ was the Angel sent!
“During my trials I suspect I often expect deliverance or greater strength before I show total humility. I’m learning, though, that the faster I give up the self, give up my will to His will, the faster I receive true rest to my body and mind.”
Debbie says she believes we can be the “angels” to strengthen others in much the same way the Angel strengthened Jesus. She said, “My family members have certainly been angels to me.
I’m so grateful that my mom and two sisters and I have shared this yoke of Muscular Dystrophy as one. Not one of us could say, ‘You just don’t understand! or, “Put yourself in my shoes for once and see how you like it!’ We were all lifting the same cross, we were all lifting one another to give each other strength to drink our individual bitter cups. This understanding of affliction has spilled over into all my other relationships.”
Then Debbie referred again to the verses in Luke and said, “After studying and pondering the above scripture, I had to stop and ask a question, however. Why didn’t God, the Father, who never left Jesus alone, choose one of the chosen and special witnesses/Apostles, who were right there, only the distance of a stone cast from Jesus, to go quickly and comfort Him?
“We are taught by Elder Talmage (in his book Jesus the Christ) that this chosen Angel was Michael, also known as Adam. Obviously, the suffering and pain, both body and mind, had to have been consuming His godly stamina! I can’t even imagine the agony!
“In my understanding, God, the Father, in all His mercy, sent someone who could fully understand, help Jesus focus on the bigger picture and transcend the torment of Satan’s attacks. It wasn’t that Jesus forgot His divinity, nor was He going to falter. However, it taught me that Jesus, too, needed the physical, spiritual support, succor, empathy, understanding, and comfort that we all basically need when we are racked with pain of any kind. This ‘bitter cup’ was an unknown to the unspotted, pure and humble Lamb of God. He had no former insight in this life into how agonizing this experience would be.”
Those last two sentences bring up a question concerning the “all-knowingness” of the Savior. In D&C 38:1-2 we read, “Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I Am, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made; The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes.”
Stanley E. Winchester, in the manuscript for his soon-to-be published book His Grace is Sufficient, gives a thought-provoking explanation to the above topic: “I think the difference between Jesus’ pre-Atonement knowledge and post-Atonement knowledge was physical and emotional experience. He already knew everything intellectually, but He had not physically or emotionally experienced our sins, sorrows, and pains until Gethsemane and Golgotha. Even though Jesus knew exactly what was coming in Gethsemane He prayed that He might not have to actually experience it, but as always He submitted to the Father’s will. So, even though Jesus is all-knowing, He still had to experience all in order to ‘[finish His] preparations unto the children of men’ (D&C 19:19)!
“In my mind and heart I know Jesus somehow was able to take upon Himself our individual life experiences, including all the pain, sorrow, suffering, and sins in the sacred Garden of Gethsemane and in so doing He began the process of overcoming hell by descending into the very depths of hell.”
No amount of intellectual knowledge comes close to the impact of actual experience; it is so important that the Lord said to Joseph Smith, “if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7) And to know that the Lord Jesus Christ has experienced it all can give us the most solid trust in Him.
The Power Contradictions the Savior Suffered
Mike, a Meridian reader, shared in an e-mail, “The Savior voluntarily took upon himself not only the cumulative burden of all sin and transgression, but also the cumulative burden of all depression, all loneliness, all sorrow, all mental, emotional, and physical hurt, and all weakness of every kind that afflicts mankind. He knows the depth of sorrow that stems from death; he knows the widow’s anguish. He understands the agonizing parental pain when children go astray; he has felt the striking pain of cancer and every other debilitating ailment heaped upon man. Impossible as it may seem, he has somehow taken upon himself those feelings of inadequacy, sometimes even utter hopelessness, that accompany our rejections and weaknesses. There is no mortal condition, however gruesome or ugly or hopeless it may seem that has escaped His grasp and suffering. No one will be able to say, ‘But you don’t understand my particular situation.’”
This is but a glimpse of His awful load, the immense, unimaginable burden the Savior bore. (See Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 63:9; D&C 133:53; Alma 7:11; Mosiah 3:7.)
President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “There is no human condition—be it suffering, incapacity, inadequacy, mental deficiency, or sin—which He cannot comprehend or for which His love will not reach out to the individual.”
The scriptures are emphatic on this point – “He comprehended all things” because “He descended below all things” (D&C 88:6; 122:8).
Joseph Smith said, “[Jesus] descended in suffering below that which man can suffer; or, in other words, suffered greater sufferings, and was exposed to more powerful contradictions than any man can be.” (Lectures on Faith, 5:2.)
Mike commented about “the powerful contradictions” the Savior suffered. He said, “After thinking and wondering about what these “contradictions” could be for a long time, even years, the answers came while I was driving home one evening, pondering the question yet again. Suddenly, ideas came to my mind, one at a time, clearly, like bullet points – completely formed. As each one came, it seemingly overwhelmed my mind, like waves in the surf…I would just reach the surface, only to have another wave of thought overpower me.
“I came home and wrote the thoughts I could remember:
• He who loves us with perfect love – suffered the combined results of all hatred, malice, evil intent, bigotry, persecution
• The Great Healer or Great Physician, who brought about the Resurrection for us – suffered the pain and indignity of all disease and illness, physical and mental; murder, torture, starvation, addiction, suicide
• The Great Creator and Prince of Peace – suffered the torment of war and violence, fear and death, mangled bodies and lives, families and nations torn asunder, great pollutions, pestilence, environmental disasters, holocausts, floods of refugees seeking safety after being separated from homes and loved ones
• He who delights in purity and chastity – suffered the disgusting insults of rape, incest, pornography, homosexuality, prostitution, adultery and all other unspeakable perversions
• He who loves Children, His little ones – suffered the sorrow and consequences of abortion and crack babies, child abuse of all kinds, divorce, loneliness, neglect
• He who was willing to give all, even His perfect life for us, unworthy creatures – suffered the combined effects of selfishness, greed, avarice, poverty, materialism
• The Great Liberator – suffered the effects of slavery, captivity, bondage, false accusation, unjust imprisonment, secret acts of violence and evil in countless dungeons over millennia
• The Master Teacher – suffered the effects of ignorance, stupidity, superstition, deceit, lies, fraud, incorrect traditions
• The Author and Giver of the Law – suffered the injustice of broken law, prejudice, abuse of power, mobs, secret combinations, evil conspiracies, all criminal misdeeds & lawlessness
• The Only Perfect One – suffered the consequences of all error, miscalculation, failure, omissions, misunderstanding, bad choices, inadequacy, improper judgment, humiliation, and rejection.
“If you can get your arms around it, He suffered all this and more, more than we could suffer or experience collectively, so that we might have hope in and through Him….that we might know He can reach us wherever we are and heal us if we will but believe, repent, and obey.”
The Lord is compassionate, rewarding even our desire to have more faith. Remember when the father of the stricken son “cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” This limited faith was rewarded with the miraculous healing of his son. (Mark 9:17, 24; see also verses 17-29.) Alma confirms this when he said, “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” (Alma 32:27; see also verses 27-43.) Our Savior wants to bless us; He wants to heal us, and because of His Atonement He knows when our faith is sufficient.
I’m so grateful to know that the Savior understands, truly understands. I’m so grateful for all He has done for us.
I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and grieved with deep sorrow when loved ones have died, but felt the great solace of the Comforter. I give thanks for the assurance of a glorious resurrection and reunion. I know that my Redeemer lives and that His resurrection broke the bands of death for all of us. His resurrection assures each one of us a glorious resurrection. That is the message of Easter!
I can feel the pain of recognition of my sins and mourn for the pain I have caused others, yet rejoice and give thanks for the knowledge that as I repent the Savior will not only forgive my sins; His Atonement will also heal all hearts. And that is the message of Easter!
I know that Jesus, the Son of God, was sent not only to wash away our sins but to also bear our grief and wipe away our tears. I know, because, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, He is doing that for me—in spite of my glaring inconsistencies, in spite of my faults and failings and personal weaknesses.
These are saving truths; these are precious gems confirmed to my soul by the Holy Ghost and offered to you with a humble prayer that they may be confirmed in yours. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen