Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday

In my Church, it's traditional for missionaries that are about to report to the Missionary Training Center to speak in front of the congregation as a sort of "farewell" address. Today, I had the opportunity of speaking on the Atonement of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. This was my talk. 

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is infinite and eternal. It is the culminating event in the life of our Savior, and the single most important thing He ever did. And it was done for us, as the greatest and purest expression of love. Can you imagine? The Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, the only begotten Son of God knows you personally. He loves you. He sees you perfectly for who you can become, and He gave His life in order to offer you a way back to live with the Father. In my life, the one thing I know with every fiber in my being and the one thing I’ll never doubt is the love that my Savior has for me. My purpose today is to testify that because He died for us, we now must strive to live for Him “at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death.” (Mosiah 18:9)

My brothers and sisters, the atonement was an act of mercy. We know that “no unclean thing can enter the presence of God”, and yet we all fall short of perfection. Justice requires that a payment must be made. Amulek explained,

“For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish” (Alma 34:9).

Do we really understand what this means? What would become of us if this sacrifice had not been made? The scriptures tell us that we would become a lost and fallen people, and that we must perish. We would be in a state forever separated from those we love, forever consigned to misery and loneliness. We would live in our sins forever, unable to fully become clean. This life would be the end. Yet, as Amulek further explains,

“That great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal. And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety”  (Alma 34:14-16)

But again, do we really understand what this means? The depth of all the atonement covers, and of all the suffering the Savior endured for me—for each of us—is unfathomable. As Elder Holland points out so poignantly in his talk “None Were With Him”, the Savior endured every pain and sorrow and felt the greatest degree of loneliness, all so we will never have to. He said, “One of the great consolations of this Easters season is that because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so.”  Because of the great love Christ has for all of mankind, we have the promise that He will not be leave us comfortless. (John 14:18)

Isaiah remarks on the solitary journey of our Savior, saying,

“He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely, he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3-5)

And then, in the Lord’s own words, He speaks of His suffering,

“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” (D&C 19:16-19)

It means everything to me that there is someone that loves me that much. Again, it is just incomprehensible. We cannot take this gift for granted! This plan of mercy, this plan of love, is the plan of our salvation. We can be saved because Christ has broken the bands of death, and has become our Mediator with the Father. He took upon the sins of His people, and allowed a way for us to repent. One of the most beautiful promises the Lord has given us is that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

In deepest gratitude, we have the obligation to love and to serve our Master. We are so indebted to Him, and in return He only asks that we follow Him. And if we do keep His commandments, he again blesses us! Blessings of strength and peace, love and unity. He blesses us in our labors, and in our relationships with others.  And ultimately, He blesses us with the gift of eternal life, and we are able to enter His kingdom. The Bible dictionary tells us that through grace, we are given the “enabling power that allows [us] to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after [we] have expended [our] own best efforts” (BD: grace).  We can access the atonement every day in our lives, both to cleanse us from our sins and to receive strength in doing the Lord’s will. 

This Easter Sunday, let us remember the atoning sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us remember our Father in Heaven—He who loved us all so greatly that He allowed His only begotten Son to die for us. And let it change your life. We will have the opportunity this coming weekend to hear from our beloved Church leaders, and from the living Prophet of God. I am so excited. Let us all listen to their words, searching to know what changes we can make to draw nearer to our Savior. I know that however hard it may seem, it will always be worth it.

As followers of Christ, we must strive to do all we can to keep His commandments. Each day of our lives will be an ongoing battle and we will face temptations and trials. Sometimes, we will fall short. But because of the atonement, we can repent! President Monson once stated that “one of God’s greatest gifts to us is the joy of trying again, for no failure ever need to be final.”

I know that I fall short in many areas of my life. I’m not a perfect daughter, or sister, or friend. But I do love my Savior, and I will continue to repent and do my best to follow the path he lays out for me. Last October, Elder Holland shared a beautiful message about becoming converted to the Lord. At one point in his talk he stated,

“My beloved brothers and sisters, I am not certain just what our experience will be on Judgment Day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter: “Did you love me?” I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” And if at such a moment we can stammer out, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.” ("The First Great Commandment")

Let us prove our love to the Lord with our loyalty. Again quoting Elder Holland, “May we declare ourselves to be more fully disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, not in word only and not only in the flush of comfortable times but in deed and in courage and in faith, including when the path is lonely and when our cross is difficult to bear.”

I bear my testimony that I know that this is God’s true Church. I know that it holds the fullness of the Gospel and the key to obtaining eternal life.

So now it is my turn to hand my life over to the Lord, trusting in Him to guide me and to use me as an instrument in sharing this sweet message with His children.  And when it is asked of me, with all my heart I will firmly declare, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee!” 

I want each of you to know that I know with all my heart that God lives, and that He loves each and every one of us.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Talks on the Atonement:
None Were With Him (Jeffrey R. Holland)
The Atonement Can Clean and Reclaim our Lives (Shayne M. Bowen)
His Grace is Sufficient (Brad Wilcox)
The Atonement (Boyd K. Packer)
The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality (David A. Bednar)
The Miracle of the Atonement (C. Scott Grow)
The Atonement Covers All Pain (Kent F. Richards)

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