On Rebirth & Renewal: Reflections on the Resurrection

 Spring Renewal & Rebirth

I am so grateful to be here today, and for this season of the year.  Two years ago on Easter, I was asked to speak about the Atonement.  I was asked to speak today about the Resurrection.  As I have studied and contemplated and meditated and prayed about this topic, so I hope you will pray and study and contemplate about this.

I wish we were in our living room, having this conversation together, person to person, heart to heart, because that is how Jesus teaches ~ person to person and heart to heart.

I strongly feel if the Savior were here in person today, he would not be standing up here, above and apart from us.   I believe he would come down among us in the congregation, as he was during his mortal life.  So I invite us all to imagine we are there, those last few weeks of the Savior’s life, walking with him along the dusty roads of the Holy Land, asking questions and learning from him, not always understanding, preparing and sharing meals with him, as he moved from place to place, as he taught and prepared himself and those closest to him, for what was coming ~ his death and resurrection.

In the spring of Jesus’ final year, some time before Passover, Jesus received an urgent message from Mary and Martha.  Come quickly they said.  “He whom thou lovest is sick.”  Scripture recounts he delayed coming, and by the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been buried four days.  

As Martha met him on the road, she said that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have died, and that she knew that whatever he asked of the Father, would be given him.  Jesus replied:  “Thy brother shall rise again.”  Martha affirmed that she knew that Lazarus would rise again in the resurrection at the last day.

Jesus looked at her and said’ “I AM the resurrection and the life; he who believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”

Jairus’ daughter was the first to be raised from the dead, early in his ministry.[i]  That day also as Jesus promised, foreshadowing the Savior’s own death and resurrection, though he was dead, so Lazarus did live again.[ii]

Some time thereafter, from the wilderness town of Ephraim where he had gone after raising Lazarus, Jesus came again to Bethany for the last time.   At the supper the Bethany family prepared for him, attended by Lazarus and many others, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with the holy anointing oil of spikenard, “in preparation of [his] burial.”  For those who may not know, spikenard was considered an holy, spiritual oil.  It is known to support the nervous system, and to facilitate meditation.  Anciently it was used to strengthen spiritual connection, and for rites of passage, particularly difficult ones. 


THE SAVIOR’S LAST WEEK

Fulfillment of Prophesy

Prior to going to Jerusalem, he called his inner circle to him and taught, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man, shall be accomplished.   For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spit upon; and they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.”[iii]  This was not the first or only time he taught them of his coming death and resurrection; he taught this many times over the course of his ministry.

The next day, accompanied by his disciples and companions ~ his inner circle ~ riding a donkey and only recognized later by his disciples as fulfillment of prophesy, Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, and the events now commemorated the world over as Holy Week, began.[iv]


Jesus’ Final Teachings

In his final week, Jesus taught daily.

In the temple, he taught the people in parables about many things of immediate practical need to them, including:  the parable of the wicked husbandman, the place of government, marriage and divorce; he taught that the love of God is the greatest commandment and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves, as the summation of the Law of Moses, and the teachings of the Old Testament prophets; he foretold the destruction of the temple itself and of Jerusalem; he taught about conditions that will preceed his Second Coming and signposts that help people recognize when it is near.  In this last week, Jesus also taught the people in the temple the parables of the ten virgins, the talents and the sheep and the goats.

To the disciples and his inner circle, he gave perhaps his most profound, powerful and urgent teachings.  Remember, he knew what was coming.  He knew he was leaving them, he knew how, and he knew why.  He was preparing them to face what was coming, and to fulfill what was being entrusted to them to fulfill after he was gone.  Jesus taught them four things I want to focus on briefly, as he prepared them for his death, and resurrection.


TEACHINGS AT THE LAST SUPPER

These teachings took place during the Last Supper, or as they were on their way to the Mount of Olives.  They comprise Jesus’ Last Lecture ~ those things of most profound importance of all he taught.
 

Washing the Disciples’ Feet

After washing their feet the Savior asked this question,  “Know ye what I have done to you?” 

In reply he said, “Ye call me Master and Lord; and ye say well; for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Master have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.  If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”[v]

Washing the feet of his disciples and inner circle followers was an action of humility and great condescension.   Servants washed their masters’ feet.  Yet, Jesus, their Lord and Master and many knew by then that he was the Messiah and Son of God, condescended to wash his followers’ feet.  He fulfilled a lowly servant’s task for a profound spiritual purpose, as he taught Peter, “If I wash thee not, though hast no part with me.”[vi]  Somehow, it was crucial that the Savior of the World perform this lowly service for his followers so they could have a part with him, so they could go where he was going.
 

Love One Another

After sending Judas Iscariot out, expounding on what he taught earlier about the two great commandments,  Jesus taught “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you that ye also love one another. By this shall all know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”[vii]   


The First and Second Comforters

As he taught so many times throughout his ministry, Jesus then repeated, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”  Then added, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that may abide with you forever.[viii]   “I will not leave you comfortless (GR = orphaned); I will come to you… He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”

The other Judas asked, “How is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?   Jesus answered and said unto him; If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”[ix]


Jesus is the Vine

As Jesus and the disciples walked to the Mount of Olives, Jesus taught, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. . . Abide in me and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.  I am the vine; ye are the branches; He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me, ye can do nothing.   Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit;  so shall ye be my disciples.”[x]

These four crucial things Jesus taught his disciples and his inner circle in the last moments he had to teach them in his mortal life:

  • Service, even by those who are “great” is the first order of heaven.
     
  • Love is the great commandment and THE hallmark of discipleship.
     
  • We are not orphaned, and we need not be alone.  Through Jesus’ love for us, and ours for him, we gain both the First and Second Comforters ~ the Holy Spirit, and ultimately the presence of both the Savior and the Father.
     
  • We, all of us, have been ordained to go and bring forth good fruit. To bear abundant and good fruit, we must abide in him ~ the Vine.


THE MOUNT OF OLIVES

The Atonement in the Garden

Already having begun to feel and wrestle with the weight of what he was called to bear after the dinner in Bethany, when Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.”[xi]  And then choosing, “Father, glorify thy name.”[xii], they entered the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. 

He went a distance away from his companions, and prayed, “ ‘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.” [xiii] 

He felt the weight of the sorrow and sin, heartbreak and grief, disappointment and anger, as well as the biases, small thinking and blind spots and “pains of every single living creature, both men, women and children, who belong to the family of Adam,” [xiv] including every one of us, in this time in the garden. 

Jesus had what I have recently come to think of as a Libera Me experience.  

One of the great choral musical art forms is the requiem mass.   A requiem is essentially a funeral service that many other churches do to honor a deceased person.   Many composers have written requiems, and they always contain the same movements.  One of these movements is the Libera Me movement.

The chorale I sang with performed requiems, and as we were performing I had a clear image and experience of these words being felt by the Savior in the garden of Gethsemane. 

Originally in Latin, I would like to share the words of this movement in English, because they give a fresh experience of both what was at stake with the Savior’s choice and the Atonement, and a renewed experience of the agony he chose to undergo ~ for us.

Free me Lord, from eternal death, on that day of dread, when the heavens and earth shall move, when you shall come to judge the world by fire.  I am made to tremble, and to fear, when destruction shall come, and also your coming wrath. O that day, that day of wrath, of calamity and misery, the great and exceedingly bitter day.

Grant eternal rest to them, Lord, and let perpetual light shine on them.

Choosing to free us from eternal death, and grant us eternal rest instead, Jesus bled from every pore, praying on our behalf, “Wherefore, Father spare these that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”[xv]


Resurrection Morning

The crucifixion agony began early on a Friday morning, the second day of Passover.  After trials that lasted through the night, Jesus was put on the cross between two common criminals.  With him to the end were the closest members of his inner circle and at least one disciple:  Mary his mother, his mother’s sister, also known as Mary, wife of Cleophas, Mary Magdalene and John the beloved. 

As in the garden of Gethsemane, prophesy was fulfilled in the way he died.   His clothing was divided by lot between the soldiers.  He died before sundown, and was hastily buried in the nearby, unused tomb of Joseph of Aramathia, so that they could lay him to rest before sundown, and therefore the beginning of a new Sabbath.      


The Resurrection

Early in the morning of the first day of a new week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.  The stone was removed and it was open.  She ran back for Peter and John, believing the body of the Savior had been removed.  They came with Mary, to see for themselves the opening, and the graveclothes folded and laying aside, then returned to their own homes.

Mary was alone in the garden, weeping, when she looked in the sepulchre.  She saw “two angels, in white sitting . . . where the body of Jesus had lain.  They say unto her, ‘Woman, why weepest thou?’  ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have lain him.’”

Then she turned around and saw someone whom she thought was a gardener.  He said,  “’Woman, why weepest thou?  Whom sleekest thou?’ … Supposing him to be the gardener, Mary said to him, ‘Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou has laid him, and I will take him away.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’  In a timeless, and transcendent moment of recognition, Mary turned and said to him, ‘Rabboni,’ which means Master. Jesus said ‘Touch (hold) me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren, and say to them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God and your God.’

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.” [xvi]  

Mary Magdalene was the first of the ancient disciples to witness the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  She was known as the apostle’s apostle for hundreds of years because she was the first witness of the Resurrection.

In the coming days, the resurrected Jesus appeared to groups of disciples in closed rooms, at the sea of Tiberias, on the road to Emmaus and other times.  

The resurrected Lord Jesus Christ appeared to the Nephites and in the modern era, to Joseph Smith and others.  Joseph declared along with Sidney Rigdon, “After the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him:  That he lives!  For we saw him, even on the right hand of God.” [xvii]
 

CONCLUSION

Condescension:  Coming Down To Live Among Us, To Raise Us Up

“’Knowest though the condescension of God?’ the angel asked Nephi.  Nephi replied, ‘I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.’” [xviii]    

Jesus was and is the brightest Light and greatest, most valiant and intelligent of all premortal spirits.[xix]  Because of love for us, the Son of God descended to Earth and condescended to live a mortal life, to be born in a stable (some believe a cave) in unusual yet humble circumstances, to die an excruciating criminal’s death and be buried in a cave, to get in the game of mortality, to be all in, and live among us, to experience the messiness, the pain, the sorrow, the physical challenges and limitations, the temptations, sorrows and heartaches, as well as the joys, the sweetness, the triumphs, the growth and the love.  Because of love for us, he descended to live and love and serve and experience mortality among us in full humanity, and then to bear all of our sorrows and pains as his own, so that he can raise us up, in the physical Resurrection to come.

Though his Atonement and Resurrection, he also came to raise us up here and now in the midst of our own mortal lives.  Because of his life, his Atonement and his Resurrection, we can be renewed and reborn to newness of life spiritually and emotionally here and now.

Because of his life, his Atonement and his Resurrection we have the promise of eternal life and exaltation – the promise to rise up to where he has already gone. 

During these next two weeks, the last of which is Holy Week, I really encourage us all to contemplate these things, to read the gospels again, especially the books of Luke and John, to imagine what it might have been like to be there with him, among the disciples as he "loved them to the end," as John said, and taught them person to person, heart to heart.

I really encourage us all on Easter morning in the midst of everything else we will do, to pause and greet the new dawning of Easter with joy, gratitude, gladness and celebration. 

I too testify of Jesus Christ, as the Resurrected Lord.   I testify of the power of his Atonement and Resurrection to change us, to heal us, to save us, to heal our hearts and relationships and to renew us spirit, mind and body, and ultimately to raise us from death and open the door to eternal life and exaltation.

I also testify of something else that can make all the difference in your mortal walk on Earth:  that He will walk with you still, here and now, for this is how he does it, he walks with us, and teaches and heals us person to person, heart to heart.

As expressed in the words of an old gospel song:

I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses;
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing. [Refrain]

REFRAIN:
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

I'd stay in the garden with Him
Tho' the night around me be falling;
But He bids me go; thro' the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling. [Refrain]

REFRAIN:
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.[xx]


In the beloved, holy name of Jesus, Amen.


[i] Luke 8:  49-55

[ii] See John chapter 11.

[iii] Luke 18:  31-33

[iv] See John chapter 12

[v] John 13:  12 – 17.

[vi] See John 13

[vii] John 13:  34-35

[viii] John 14:  15-17

[ix] John 14:  15 – 26 excerpts

[x] John:  15:  1 – 8 excerpts

[xi] John 12:  27 - 28

[xii] ibid

[xiii] Luke 22:  42-44

[xiv] 2 Nephi 9: 21

[xv] D&C 45: 5

[xvi] John 20:  1 – 18 excerpts

[xvii] D&C 76:  22-23

[xviii] 1 Ne:  11:  16-1

[xix] Abraham 3: 16-21

[xx] In the Garden, C. Austin Miles


© March 2015.  Debra Brown Gordy.   All Rights Reserved.   Copying or distributing without the express written consent of the author is prohibited.

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