I delivered something similar to this to my ward a couple of weeks ago.
Some years ago I took [my son] with me while working in upstate New York. We visited Seneca Falls, Fayette, and Palmyra. I was delighted that some of the history nerdiness that saturates our household had permeated him as demonstrated by his cheerful responses to the missionaries and his piercing questions. I keep my favorite memory of those days from the Grandin printing office. After walking through the exhibits demonstrating the publication methods of the Book of Mormon, the missionaries directed us to a hanging copy of “Moroni’s Promise.” One sister earnestly explained it to [my son] and asked if he had ever followed its exhortation. “No,” he responded, and the missionary’s eyes flashed with the opportunity. “I don’t need to.” And I leaned over and whispered that I didn’t either. I was grateful at that moment that my son had learned that there is more than one story associated with that scripture.
When we talk about the restoration, we generally invoke three narratives: the First Vision, the coming forth of Book of Mormon, and the Restoration of the Priesthood. Millions of people have come to Christ and this church as the Holy Ghost has witnessed in response to missionaries recounting them. They have been the central stories of our evangelization for the last one hundred years. It is not my intent to denigrate them. However, they are merely a veneer over the frequently unexplored and powerful structures that make us who we are. Many assume that the church exploded, more or less full formed, shortly after Joseph Smith walked out of the Sacred Grove. Today in Sunday School, [our SS teacher] will complicate and thus enrich the First Vision for us, and we will save the other two for another day. I am going to talk about a few often untold stories that are central to the Restoration.
In the first year of the church the Lord revealed that the Saints were to establish a city-state on the western frontier called Zion. Zion was a community where there would be no poor and where, “salvation itself was a social affair.” [n1] The Lord spoke to Joseph: “I have made the earth rich…& I hold forth & deign to give unto you greater Riches even a land of promise a land flowing with milk & Honey upon which there shall be no curse & I will give it unto you for the land of your enheritance” [n2] In this place we were to transcend the “corrupted flesh” and “powers of darkness” (D&C 38:11-12) that alienated people through time and space. Of course Zion fell to those who feared our religious beliefs, and perhaps to our own hubris. Our people fled as their neighbors took their homes and properties. In the Missouri War, they raped and killed us, and we scattered again. Now Zion is barely a memory. Instead we repeat that it is the pure in heart and internalize our preparation for some future and esoteric restoration.
Zion was a promise of Edenic proportions, a restoration from the fall. And the Lord himself declared that the window for its establishment has past. I submit to you that while the city-state lies in oblivion, it is yet within reach. We say that the most important aspect of our Sunday worship is partaking the Sacrament of the Lord’s supper. I was raised with the teaching that this ordinance is a renewal of the Baptismal covenant. I believe that is true. However, more importantly, the Lord’s supper is a meal where we eat together, recognizing each other as the body of Christ. Perhaps the most important thing you do today is not silently considering your personal salvation. Perhaps the most important thing you do today is offering the flesh and blood of our Savior to the person next to you. Perhaps the most important thing we do today is receiving it from them. We have recognized each other at the table of the Lord, a place where we simply cannot be alone. I believe that this is beginning of Zion. Partaking of the Lord’s Supper together affirms that we are not saved as individuals, but as part of God’s covenant people—we need each other not only for the joys of earthly community, but for our very salvation. May we strip the curses of this fallen world from our bodies and this land, becoming “a branch of the LORD both beautiful and glorious.”
Fullness of the Priesthood
After the war, the Saints began again in Nauvoo. And there were yet revelations and restorations. The Lord commanded that a temple be built, a place where the liturgy we experience in our temples was first offered. The Lord declared that “there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood.” (D&C 124:28) By this time, Joseph Smith had revealed all of the priesthood offices we currently have in the church. All of the quorums and presidencies. The Saints did not anticipate what came next.
The founding of the Relief Society was the first step. Some of us are unaccustomed to viewing the Relief Society as being essential to the Restoration. The name does not seem particularly ancient. And yet, in the founding days Joseph Smith claimed that “the Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood.” [n3] Other leaders taught that the Society was the “order of God connected with the priest hood” and that “the Order of th[e] Priesthood is not complete without it.” [n4] This was a restoration of an ecclesiastical structure that incorporated women—a promise that I believe has yet to be fully realized in the church. But there was more. Joseph taught the sisters that he wasn’t just going to order them according to the ancient priesthood, he was going to make of them a “kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day— as in Pauls day” [n5] This was the fullness of the priesthood that Lord declared was taken away and must be restored. There are no bishops, or deacons, or presidents or apostles in heaven. Jesus Christ “by his own blood” makes us kings and queens, priestesses and priests. [n6] The Restoration of the Relief Society points both backwards to the salvific history of Enoch and Paul, but also forward to a glorious future that we are even now creating—when we understand our daily, weekly work in the Church as part of this ancient and glorious history, we begin to see our place in an eternal Zion. And like Zion—”the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all”—the fullness of priesthood does not embrace the fall, it transcends it. It is the material structure of heaven on “earth while it shall stand, and again in eternity, no more to pass away.”
In a few years, it will be [my son] whose eye’s glimmer with hope when someone who is clearly interested in the Gospel of Jesus Christ seems to need one of our stories. I hope he remembers that while it slipped through my fingers, mostly because of hubris, I loved and longed for Zion. I hope he remembers that our ecclesiastical and cosmic structures are incomplete, that they will not be restored until we have integrated the entire human family. And I hope that he remembers that it is in and through the blood of Jesus, that we are made whole.
- Ashurst-McGee, “Zion Rising,” 201.
- Joseph Smith, Revelation, January 2, 1831, JSP Website. Cf., D&C 38:18-20.
- Joseph Smith Sermon, March 31, 1842, in Female Relief Society Minutes of Nauvoo, Derr, et al., The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, 43.
- Ibid., 115–116 [August 13, 1843].
- Ibid., 43 [March 31, 1842].
- Joseph Smith, Sermon, June 16, 1844.