March 24, 2013

Had I Been There

The script I wrote for our Church Easter Program last year.

Today, with millions of Christians around the world, we commemorate the most significant single day in the history of the universe. As we read from the four Gospels, and from the words of modern-day apostles and prophets, let us ponder the valuable and penetrating question of how we would have responded had we been there in Jerusalem during the Last, Holy Week of the Savior’s mortal life.

As Raymond Brown, a renowned Catholic scholar wrote: “[Would I have welcomed Jesus with palm branches, and shouts of acclimation?] Is it not more likely that I might have been among the disciples who fled from danger, abandoning him? Or at moments in my life have I not played the role of Peter, denying Jesus, or even of Judas, betraying him? Have I not found myself like ... Pilate, trying to avoid a decision between good and evil, [or washing] my hands so that the record could show that I was blameless? Or, most of all, might I not have stood among the religious leaders who condemned Jesus?” (A Crucified Christ, by Raymond Brown, pg. 11-12)

At this time, let us also ponder the perfect and selfless example of the Savior. During His most agonizing, and trying trials, He turned towards others and served them. When He needed comfort, He comforted others. When He needed strength, He bore our burdens to strengthen us. May we ever more, allow the Savior into our lives by becoming more faithful disciples of the Lord, and by following His perfect example.

On the Thursday of that Holy Week, the Savior held a special Last Supper with His apostles. During this meal He instituted the holy sacrament, washed the dusty feet of His disciples, and taught them and comforted them. Some of the greatest teachings of all scripture are contained in this evening discourse that Jesus gave; a discourse that was meant to comfort and encourage His apostles on this night when all would seem lost.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “In the world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

After the Last Supper, Jesus took his disciples to the Mount of Olives. “And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him. And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand.” (Mark 14:32-42)

After the excruciating suffering of Gethsemane, Jesus was arrested and taken before both the Jewish and Roman authorities to be judged. On that Friday morning the Creator of the universe, the Great High Priest, the King of kings and Lord of lords was condemned to death for being the very King He was. During these harrowing moments, no one stood with Him. All had fled. All had forsaken Him.

“Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, they crucified him. And they that passed by reviled him, saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, [saying] He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:27-43)

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said: “Each of us will have our own Fridays—those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays. But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death—Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come. No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, in this life or the next, Sunday will come.” (Sunday Will Come, October 2006).

“Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, [the women] came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake [unto you] saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words, And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.” (Luke 24:1-9)

The scriptures record of many others who were witnesses of the resurrected Lord: Mary Magdeline, Peter, the apostles, Paul, James, the Nephites and Lamanites of 3 Nephi, and hundreds of others. In our day, the risen Lord has appeared once again, visiting Joseph Smith the prophet, and countless others. Today each of the Apostles is a special witness of Christ’s divinity. Only two weeks before his death, Elder Bruce R. McConkie testified, “I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way. God grant that all of us may walk in the light as God our Father is in the light so that, according to the promises, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son will cleanse us from all sin.” (The Purifying Power of Gethsemane, April 1985)

As we contemplate the singular events of the death and resurrection of the Lord and Savior, let us remember the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland when he said, “My ... plea at Easter time is that these scenes of Christ’s lonely sacrifice, laced with moments of denial and abandonment and, at least once, outright betrayal, must never be reenacted by us. He has walked alone once. Now, may I ask that never again will He have to confront sin without our aid and assistance, that never again will He find only unresponsive onlookers when He sees you and me along His Via Dolorosa in our present day. As we approach this holy week—Passover Thursday with its Paschal Lamb, atoning Friday with its cross, Resurrection Sunday with its empty tomb—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. This Easter week and always, may we stand by Jesus Christ “at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in, even until death,” for surely that is how He stood by us when it was unto death and when He had to stand entirely and utterly alone.” (None Were with Him, April 2009)

Let us this Easter season, renew our efforts to feed the hungry, to lift up the hands of those that hang down, to strengthen the feeble knees, and to comfort those who stand in need of comfort. In short, let us follow the example of the Savior, who when all was dark, brought light to those around him by serving, lifting, and comforting. Let us also, with those of old, be witnesses of Christ in all things. Truly we have reason to rejoice, for Christ the Lord is Risen today!

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