Easter isn’t about family, as such, but it’s a great family day nonetheless. Happily, we were able to spend this afternoon with one of our sons, my wife’s sister, and my father in law, who is now in his ninety-sixth year.
Before that, we attended our ward sacrament meeting, which was — not surprisingly — Easter-themed. “The fundamental principles of our religion,” said the Prophet Joseph Smith, “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.”
Some of the best music in the Church is Easter music, and I regret that we tend to sing it only on Easter Sunday itself. That means, unfortunately, that we don’t get through it all in any given year, so that some of the songs are sung only every two or three years.
We began this morning by singing the wonderful Hymn 199, with lyrics by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818–1895) set to music by Joachim Neander (1650–1680):
He is risen! He is risen!
Tell it out with joyful voice.
He has burst his three days’ prison;
Let the whole wide earth rejoice.
Death is conquered; man is free.
Christ has won the victory.
Come with high and holy hymning;
Chant our Lord’s triumphant lay.
Not one darksome cloud is dimming
Yonder glorious morning ray,
Breaking o’er the purple east,
Symbol of our Easter feast.
He is risen! He is risen!
He hath opened heaven’s gate.
We are free from sin’s dark prison,
Risen to a holier state.
And a brighter Easter beam
On our longing eyes shall stream.
Our sacrament hymn was Number 183, by Evan Stephens (1854-1930):
In remembrance of thy suff’ring,
Lord, these emblems we partake,
When thyself thou gav’st an off’ring,
Dying for the sinner’s sake.
We’ve forgiven as thou biddest
All who’ve trespassed against us.
Lord, forgive, as we’ve forgiven,
All thou seest amiss in us.
Purify our hearts, our Savior;
Let us go not far astray,
That we may be counted worthy
Of thy Spirit day by day.
When temptations are before us,
Give us strength to overcome.
Always guard us in our wand’rings
Till we leave our earthly home.
When thou comest in thy glory
To this earth to rule and reign,
And with faithful ones partakest
Of the bread and wine again,
May we be among the number
Worthy to surround the board,
And partake anew the emblems
Of the suff’rings of our Lord.
Our bishopric blessed the sacrament, which was passed to the congregation by bearers of the Melchizedek Priesthood. I was pleased to see that, because it underlines the importance of the ordinance — which isn’t just something for young holders of the Aaronic Priesthood to take care of. I’ve heard of occasions when the sacrament has been passed by members of the Quorum of the Twelve (perhaps — I don’t really recall — after it having been blessed by members of the First Presidency).
And that reminded me of a story that was told me a few years ago about a Latter-day Saint sacrament meeting that was held in the Kirtland Temple under the leadership of a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. It was the first time that such a meeting had been permitted in that building, which is currently owned by the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Permission had come from the RLDS First Presidency, but the RLDS employee who was the manager of the Kirtland Temple and surrounding properties was not at all happy about that, and was fairly vocal about his displeasure. Still, he sat in on the meeting — probably to make sure that the “Utah Mormons” didn’t do any damage or misbehave. The person who later told me the story was one of those who were passing the sacrament, and the RLDS manager was sitting in the section of the temple to which he had been assigned. He pondered whether he should offer the sacrament to someone who, although affiliated with the Restoration tradition, wasn’t actually a baptized member of the Church. Finally, though, he decided that he would. But the man rather brusquely waved him off, declining to accept emblems of the sacrament administered by the “Utah church.”
Afterwards, however, he approached my friend (a resident of the area around Kirtland, whom he knew) and apologized quite emotionally. Immediately following his refusal to take the sacrament, he said, he been roundly rebuked by the Spirit. He had, he continued, never experienced such a chastising before. “This isn’t your House,” a powerful inner voice forcefully told him. “This is my House.”
I’ve loved that account ever since. But back to today’s Easter service:
The sacrament was followed by a program that was put on by the children and youth of our ward, including numerous musical numbers as well as readings from the gospels, the prophet Isaiah, and other relevant scriptural texts. One of the first of the musical numbers was what I believe is a Primary children’s song:
Another was the popular Protestant hymn “How Great Thou Art!”
There is great doctrine taught in such lyrics, memorably expressed, and the music really helps to bring them home.
Following the program by the children and youth, our stake president, who happens to be a member of our ward, gave some brief remarks. And then we sang the closing hymn, Number 198:
That Easter morn, a grave that burst
Proclaimed to man that “Last and First”
Had ris’n again
And conquered pain.
This morn renews for us that day
When Jesus cast the bonds away,
Took living breath
And conquered death.
Thus we in gratitude recall
And give our love and pledge our all,
Shed grateful tear
And conquer fear.
It was especially nice to close with that hymn because its lyrics were written by Elder Marion D. Hanks and its music by Robert Cundick. I think that I’ll wait until my next blog entry to explain why.
For the second hour of today’s service, my wife led a discussion of the atonement and resurrection of Christ in her “Come, Follow Me” class. I was pleased that she elected to use the words of St. John Chrystostom that I cited in my blog entry a couple of days ago.