One of the many things that I love and appreciate about being an “active” Latter-day Saint is the community that such activity provides.
Today was Fast Sunday for us. Communicant Latter-day Saints typically fast from eating and drinking for twenty-four hours on the first Sunday of each month. We then give at least the amount of money that we saved thereby to the Church’s fast offering fund, which is used by local bishops to aid the poor, those who’ve been laid off from work or are in temporary need, etc. Sometimes we also fast, either on that first Sunday or at another time, in order to seek particular blessings from the Lord. This month, my wife and I fasted for a friend who is fighting a serious cancer.
Fast Sunday is also a time for the “bearing” of testimonies, when individual members of a congregation stand before it during sacrament meeting, unscheduled and as they feel inclined, to express their faith, tell of blessings, reflect on recent lessons learned, and so forth.
Today, our sacrament meeting opened with a prayer, of course, and with the early Mormon hymn “Come, O thou King of Kings,” by Parley Pratt (d. 1857):
Come, O thou King of Kings!We’ve waited long for thee,With healing in thy wings,To set thy people free.Come, thou desire of nations, come;Let Israel now be gathered home.
Come, make an end to sin,And cleanse the earth by fire,And righteousness bring in,That Saints may tune the lyreWith songs of joy, a happier strain,To welcome in thy peaceful reign.
Hosannas now shall soundFrom all the ransomed throng,And glory echo roundA new triumphal song;The wide expanse of heaven fillWith anthems sweet from Zion’s hill.
Hail! Prince of life and peace!Thrice welcome to thy throne!While all the chosen raceTheir Lord and Savior own,The heathen nations bow the knee,And ev’ry tongue sounds praise to thee.
The first order of business was the blessing of three babies–a newborn girl and two boys–by their fathers. It’s a wonderful thing for the community as a whole to mark the beginning of new lives–lives that we hope will be productive, happy, charitable, and faithful–in this way. But I couldn’t help thinking of my friend Fred Liljegren, whose funeral “farewell” took place in the same building just last Thursday morning. (I was honored to be asked to speak during the services.) We join together as a supportive community to welcome new members when they arrive and to say goodbye as old friends depart:
Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die, and more especially for those that have not hope of a glorious resurrection. And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them. (Doctrine and Covenants 42:45-46)
In our service today, we then sang a hymn to prepare our minds for the sacrament of the Lord’s supper:
While of these emblems we partakeIn Jesus’ name and for his sake,Let us remember and be sureOur hearts and hands are clean and pure.
For us the blood of Christ was shed;For us on Calvary’s cross he bled,And thus dispelled the awful gloomThat else were this creation’s doom.
The law was broken; Jesus diedThat justice might be satisfied,That man might not remain a slaveOf death, of hell, or of the grave,
But rise triumphant from the tomb,And in eternal splendor bloom,Freed from the pow’r of death and pain,With Christ, the Lord, to rule and reign.
Following the sacrament, in which members of the Church covenant to “always remember” the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf, we heard a testimony from a young man in the ward who leaves on Wednesday for two years of missionary service in German-speaking Europe. After he spoke, our bishop offered a few words about his own convictions, and then opened the meeting up to the congregation more generally. Because of the baby blessings and the missionary’s testimony, the time for the rest of the congregation was somewhat abbreviated, but we still managed to hear from a number.
We closed with the old Protestant hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” which I admit has never been one of my favorites, and then adjourned for separate Sunday school classes.
It was my turn to teach the adult Sunday school class today, and the lesson was on Brigham Young’s assumption of Church leadership after the murder of Joseph Smith, the reception of temple ordinances in the Nauvoo Temple before the Saints were obliged to abandon both it and the city they had built, and the beginnings of the trek westward. I focused on succession in the presidency of the Church, on the famous 8 August 1844 meeting during which many witnesses, as they later testified, saw Brigham Young in some sense “transfigured” (complete with Joseph’s voice) into the likeness of his martyred predecessor — I think I’ll write my column on that topic later this week — and on the centrality of the rites of the temple for Mormon belief.
Finally, during the women headed off to their separate meeting and the men to theirs. Our teacher today — the high priest group leader — chose to base his lesson on an April 2013 general conference talk by my friend Elder Craig Cardon, of the First Quorum of the Seventy, entitled “The Savior Wants to Forgive.” He also showed a nice video (an Evangelical Protestant one, I think) of Christ’s healing of the man born blind. (See John 9.) The most moving thing to me, in his lesson, was his account of someone known personally to a number of us who had sunk to the depths of drug addiction — including heroin addiction – but who (I had not heard this before) has managed to come back and will be married in the temple in November. My admiration for a person who has made such a journey is beyond bounds. It is meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this our brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. (Compare Luke 15:11-32.)
It’s wonderful to me to live in a neighborhood so bound by covenant to God and by love and caring to one another. This isn’t just a collection of houses in which we happen to live near to one another. I’ve lived in such places, and I know the difference. This is a community. And such communities exist, however far flung the houses may be, in ward and branches of the Church around the world.
Posted from Provo Canyon, Utah