Saturday, March 26, 2005


26 March 2005

“For I know that my redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms shall destroy this body, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”
(Job 19: 25-26)

“He will swallow up death in victory, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces...” (Isaiah 25:8)

“Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.”
(Isaiah 26: 19)

“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” ( I Corinthians 15:22)

“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (I Corinthians 15:26)

In the Mormon graveyard at the place once called “Winter’s Quarters” is a memorial plaque that echoes the message of Easter.

On what was once a frozen, barren prairie situated on the boarder of Nebraska and Iowa, nearly fifteen thousand Mormons, expelled from Illinois, struggled to survive the brutal winter of 1847. The make-shift settlement that these pioneers quickly threw up became a death camp, with thousands falling ill and hundreds dying.

And yet today in this place where there once was so much suffering and death, there is a monument to the pioneers belief in the message of Easter.

A plaque in the graveyard lists the names of those who died and are buried there, and yet the plaque is not adorned with a Christian cross--a symbol of Christ’s death. Instead, in the center of the plaque is beautiful human figure--standing straight and upright, arms extended out as if embracing the earth. The figure is muscular, weighty, and yet seems to be rising from the earth. Above the figure, stretching across the entire width of the plaque are these simple words: LIFE IS ETERNAL

It has been observed by some recent Mormon scholars and writers that belief in the Resurrection of the Dead is the one doctrine from which spring nearly all other doctrines unique to Mormonism. Consider the following:

The Mormon tradition of embracing education and learning stems from the doctrine that whatever knowledge one gains in this life will rise with one in the resurrection. (See Doctrine & Covenants 130:18)

The dietary restrictions observed by some denominations of Mormons harkens back to the belief that the physical body itself is holy and will, at the Resurrection, be revived and made eternal.

Most importantly, for the majority of the world’s Mormons belief in the Resurrection is the foundation for the conviction that marriage and family relationships can be eternal. Temple marriage ceremonies end with the blessings associated with the Resurrection being pronounced upon the couple being wed.

Even the tradition, common among many Mormons, of not using the cross as a religious symbol, is based on the conviction that Christ’s resurrection--not his agonizing death on the cross--should be the proper focus of one’s faith and hope.

When in his funeral sermon for King Follett, Joseph Smith laid out a startling new theology regarding the nature of eternity, God and humans, he reasoned from Biblical texts dealing with the death and resurrection of Christ.

Christ’s teachings on the Resurrection were not original or unique to him. During his ministry, the doctrine was hotly debated by Jewish thinkers and religious leaders. Those who embraced the doctrine believed that at some future point in history, the physical bodies of all those who had ever lived would be restored to life; that physical death itself would be conquered and that human life on earth would be made eternal . Many believed that the expected Messiah would bring to pass this resurrection.

For the first century followers of Christ, his resurrection--and the hope of an eventual universal resurrection--were the foundations of their faith. The Apostle Paul went so far as to write that “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain.” (See I Corinthians 15:17)

As Reform Mormons partake of the sacrament this Easter, we might ask ourselves just how the concept of the Resurrection effects the way we view the world; how it effects our values, our ethics and our actions. Do we view our life here on earth as something merely temporal, or do we see it as connected to eternity? In examining our lives and our present situation, whatever it may be, are we able to discern that which is eternal? Is the value of our pursuits (be they the pursuit of knowledge, the development of our gifts and talents, the forming of familial and romantic relationships, the forging of friendships) merely transitory, or is it--by virtue of the Resurrection--potentially eternal?

For in the end, the hope of the Resurrection is the hope that human life on earth has eternal value and meaning; that in some way our human nature has more in common with God’s eternal nature than may be apparent as we struggle through the “opposition in all things” that often clouds our vision day to day.

Whether one’s life ends in agony upon a cross--scorned and ridiculed by the world; in exile on a frozen Nebraska prairie, or ebbing slowly away in a hospital room--the hope of the Resurrection is that death, by whatever means it comes, has but a temporary hold upon us, and that human loves, passions, values and accomplishments are, in fact, eternal.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain…” (Revelation 21:4)