This post will be less biographical than is usual for the Mormon Lectionary Project. After all, Emily Dickinson pretty much affords the quintessential case for the idea that biography doesn’t tell the whole story, for out of her superficially quiet life burst a vast and lively treasury of verse. Accordingly, this post eschews narrative in favor of putting Dickinson’s poems tactically into conversation with scripture both ancient and modern. It will be terse and epigrammatic, leaving readers to develop connections further in the comments (and to suggest other of her poems that resonate with Mormonism). [Read more…]
Although Julian of Norwich (c. 1342-c. 1417) was the greatest of the medieval English mystics, we know little of her life. At about age 30 she was cured of mortal illness through a vision she experienced while gazing at a cross brought by the priest who had come to administer last rites. By the 1390s she was a well-known anchorite (a person bound by vow to sacred confinement) at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich.
We know her primarily through her book of Showings, which makes her the first identifiable female author in English literature. This book exists in two forms: a shorter one recording what she called “the revelations of divine love” and a longer one that expands and meditates upon these experiences.
Although, as with many of our own spiritual experiences, Julian’s first vision seems to have come unbidden, she was exemplary in showing us what riches can come of meditating upon what the Lord has taught us. In this way she provokes us to love and good deeds, giving us confidence to enter (and re-enter) the sanctuaries of our own hearts. [Read more…]
On Palm Sunday our direction turned to the Herodian temple and it is there where it must remain if we are to properly understand Jesus’ atonement. Jesus’ first act in Jerusalem was to visit the temple. With the cursing of the fig tree, the parable of the wicked tenants, and the violent cleansing of its precincts, his rejection of the temple was total and unambiguous. By driving out the money changers he was certainly making a statement about financial corruption in holy places, but more to the point was that by doing so, the rituals of the temple were disrupted. This seems to be the central purpose of Holy Week: Jesus’ acts are an apocalyptic rejection of the Jewish temple and its replacement in his own body. Here he goes beyond the Qumran community who had fled to the desert to await the new temple; Jesus does not wait for God to act, he is God. The temple is symbolically torn down. Note the tearing of the veil at his death.
On this day we honor the example of Emmeline B. Wells, whose deep commitment to the gospel drove decades of devotion to the cause of women’s rights.
Her faith was tested severely at a young age. After joining the Church in Massachusetts and marrying while still a teenager, she came to Nauvoo, only to be abandoned by her husband. Then, when Joseph was killed, her in-laws decided to return to Massachusetts, but rather than leave the Church with them, Emmeline made Ruth’s choice:
Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!
The Restored Gospel was her Naomi. [Read more…]
In a 2010 General Conference address, President Uchtdorf told of when he, as a newly called General Authority, was riding in a car with President James E. Faust, who talked about how members of the Church would behave toward him because of his calling:
He said, “They will treat you very kindly. They will say nice things about you.” He laughed a little and then said, “Dieter, be thankful for this. But don’t you ever inhale it.”
In practical terms, a worldwide Church needs General Authorities to administer it, and yet such “high” callings bring the risk, as President Faust pointed out, of going to the heads of those who hold them. [Read more…]
Felix Mendelssohn, Psalm 114 Op. 51, “Da Israel aus Ägypten Zog” (1839)
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The Resurrected Christ brought this universal message to the people described in The Book of Mormon:
9 Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.
10 Behold, I have given unto you the commandments; therefore keep my commandments. And this is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me.
At last the day of rejoicing has come! Our Lenten afflictions now past, we echo the Psalm: “The LORD has punished me sorely, / but he did not hand me over to death.” Indeed, through Jesus we have been handed over to life! Whatever satisfaction we found in anticipation during the dark days of Lent has now become reality with the risen Jesus. “[We] shall not die, but live, / and declare the works of the LORD.” [Read more…]
Many Christian traditions celebrate an Easter Vigil. The version I have experienced is the Episcopal one, from the Book of Common Prayer. I’m not sure I have a lot to say about it, except that it’s beautiful, and that it seems familiar to me. It reminds me of the temple endowment in many ways–it is a retelling, recreation of salvific history from Creation to Fall to Atonement to Exaltation:
Let us hear the record of God’s saving deeds in history, how
he saved his people in ages past; and let us pray that our God
will bring each of us to the fullness of redemption.
One of my favorites of the sermons I’ve been able to publish in Dialogue is an Easter Vigil sermon; I think it gets at both what might seem familiar to Mormons and what might be strangely, newly lovely in it. [Read more…]
Holy Saturday represents the time in between, the time when Jesus had died, but before he had risen again. We read in the Gospel that two of his disciples, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, brought “a mixture of myrrh and aloes” and then “wrapped [the body of Jesus] with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.” Having thus laid him in the tomb, how might they reasonably expect to see him alive again? [Read more…]
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The story of Christ’s passion recorded in John 18 and 19 makes for riveting though heart-wrenching reading, especially on Good Friday. In the Garden, Jesus’ Apostles both betray (John 18:4-5) and loyally defend him (John 18:10). [Read more…]
The Collect: Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he died, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in this holy ordinance gives us a pledge of eternal life. Holiness to the Lord. Amen.
On Palm Sunday our direction was turned to the Herodian temple and it is there where it must remain. Jesus’ first act in Jerusalem was to visit the temple. With the cursing of the fig tree, the parable of the wicked tenants, and the violent cleansing of its precincts, his rejection of the temple was total. By driving out the money changers he was certainly making a statement about financial corruption in holy places, but more to the point was that by doing so, the rituals of the temple were disrupted. This seems to be the central purpose of Holy Week — the apocalyptic rejection of the Jewish temple and its replacement in his own body. Here he goes beyond the Qumran community who had fled to the desert to await the new temple; Jesus destroys it himself. Note the tearing of the veil at his death. [Read more…]
In the Anglican tradition, a service called Tenebrae is often celebrated on Wednesday in Holy Week. According to the Episcopal Book of Occasional Services,
Apart from the chant of the Lamentations (in which each verse is introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet), the most conspicuous feature of the service is the gradual extinguishing of candles and other lights in the church until only a single candle, considered a symbol of our Lord, remains. Toward the end of the service this candle is hidden, typifying the apparent victory of the forces of evil. At the very end, a loud noise is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of the resurrection (Matthew 28:2), the hidden candle is restored to its place, and by its light all depart in silence.
Part of the punitive appeal of crucifixion lies in the fact of public display: nothing says “remember who’s in charge” quite like a bunch of corpse-bedecked crosses outside the city gates. So, too, with Jesus, crucified as a troublemaker alongside two thieves and atop a hill, such that the scene might be visible from a distance. The message from the Romans: “We will not tolerate that business about destroying the temple and raising it up in three days, no sir, so don’t even think about it.” [Read more…]
Sometimes church (like so much else) looks like a place designed for extroverts. Gregariousness, if not a virtue exactly, at least seems like the sort of thing that could come in handy, since the realities of lay ministry so often oblige us to give talks, teach lessons, or otherwise act in semi-public ways. What, then, of the shy among us? Perhaps their (ok, our) patron saint could be Louise Yates Robison, who notwithstanding deep shyness served effectively as the General Relief Society President during the difficult years of the Great Depression. [Read more…]
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
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Jesus likely knew that he was sealing His fate when he “cleansed” the temple by casting out the money changers after his “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. In the Gospel of Mark, this cleansing of the temple occurs on the Monday of Holy Week (Mark 11:15-19). [Read more…]
The Collect: Heavenly Father: In your love towards the human race you sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross: grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility, and also be made partakers of his atonement; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
On Palm Sunday the Messiah is finally revealed. No more preaching in the Galilean backwaters. No more Messianic Secret. On Palm Sunday, Jesus publicly enacts the prophecy of Zechariah concerning the Messiah: [Read more…]
In celebrating a great post-structuralist thinker through lectionary readings and a homily, it seems only appropriate to “go meta.” What, then, can Roland Barthes teach us about how to read the scriptures, as we try to use the scriptures to read Roland Barthes? In what follows, I’m going to put today’s readings in conversation with key works and concepts from Barthes’s varied career.
If the Third Sunday of Lent marks, as Ronan wrote, the point where our observance flags, today’s readings allow for the hyperbolic suggestion that by now we’re just a pile of dry bones, crying to God from the depths of misery. Looking upon such histrionics, even a good friend might suggest that we just go and eat some chocolate already, if only to relieve others from the burden of witnessing our embarrassing display. [Read more…]
When several Nauvoo women gathered on 17 March 1842 to organize a society devoted to good works in the community, Joseph Smith read the revelation to Emma Smith now contained in D&C 25, emphasizing that she had been “ordained … to expound scriptures, and to exhort the Church” (D&C 25:7). The establishment of the Relief Society on that day, and Emma’s election as its first president, brought this ordination for the first time into the formal structure of the Church.  To what, then, does Relief Society as an organization exhort the Church—not just the women, but all of us? [Read more…]
Harriet Tubman’s life is one case where reality exceeds the legend. Although she led “only” about 70 slaves out of bondage (instead of the hundreds sometimes attributed to her), she lived for a half-century after her last liberation mission and continued to work in the same spirit of fiery determination for the betterment of African Americans, and African-American women in particular. [Read more…]
There is a much arid earth between Egypt and the Promised Land and thus the complaint to Moses sounds reasonable, given the circumstances:
The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst? (Exodus 17).
Here we are a few weeks into Lent and for many of us so many of those good intentions we had back in Egypt are broken. In the wilderness, we have failed. On Ash Wednesday we thought that this Lent would be the one, the one in which spiritual discipline would whisk us all the way to Easter on a cloud of religious glory. Not so, for in our wilderness of Sin, there seems to be no water, despite our hope that things would be different this time. God is right: “This people are wayward in their hearts; they do not know my ways” (Psalm 95). Yes, but that is the way of us, Lord. Have mercy and let the water flow anew. [Read more…]
“I feel ours is the mission to serve and to save, to build and to exalt.”
– Howard W. HunterHoward W. Hunter served for only nine months as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from June 4, 1994 until his death on March 3, 1995, the shortest period of any Church President so far. A banker, lawyer, and accomplished musician, he was called to be an Apostle on October 10, 1959 by President David O. McKay, who had recently dedicated the Los Angeles, California temple (1956) with the support of President Hunter, who was then serving as the President of the Pasadena, California Stake with the responsibility of organizing the open house and dedication of that temple.
President Hunter faced many medical problems during his time in Church service, for which he became somewhat known, including a heart attack, broken ribs from a fall at general conference, heart bypass surgery, bleeding ulcers, kidney failure, hospitalization for exhaustion, and finally prostate cancer that spread to his bones in the last few months of his life. He had faced health problems since his earliest childhood when as a four year old — and nearly half a century before the polio vaccine was revealed through painstaking scientific discovery — he suffered from polio, which reportedly affected his back for the rest of his life. His dedicated service through much pain and suffering occasioned by these medical problems made his life a model of “enduring to the end,” an important tenet of Mormon doctrine closely associated with exercising faith in Jesus Christ and regular repentance for falling short of true Christian discipleship as the way to demonstrate acceptance of and dedication to the Atonement of Jesus Christ in one’s personal life (1 Nephi 13:37). [Read more…]
Psalm 121, BCP Psalter, Coverdale, 1662, St Paul’s Cathedral Choir
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For the high born, whose name and social position — and wealth — often stems directly from his or her birth, the doctrine that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) is a troubling proposition. This certainly seems to have been the case with the Pharisee Nicodemus, a “ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1) and a “master of Israel” (John 3:10), who flirted with Christian discipleship during Christ’s ministry. Will I lose my name, my status, my wealth if I am thus “born again”? These considerations perhaps reveal Nicodemus’ question to Jesus — “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4) — as a sincere concern rather than the smart-alecky provocation visible in some popular versions of the story. [Read more…]
The 1630s—the decade of George Herbert’s death—were a tense period in the history of the English church. William Laud, bishop of London since 1628, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. He came to office with an ambitious program of reform designed to bring unity to a fracturing polity. The fault lines had begun to show in 1625 when Puritans began to turn the methods honed in the anti-Catholic pamphlet wars on the bishops of their own church. Laud hoped to bring unity by simmering down the conflict with Rome, but this of course only fostered further accusations that he was a crypto-papist. Instead of bringing peace, Laud’s program culminated in two disastrous wars with Scotland—events that helped precipitate the civil wars of the 1640s. [Read more…]
That Lent should be a season of joy seems, well, not quite right. Why voluntarily enter a world of deprivation when life is usually hard enough as it is? We can hardly follow Jesus into the wilderness if that’s where we’re already living, having been cast out of Eden alongside Adam and Eve. Sin and death really do seem to have the dominion here.
Moreover, this privation is supposed to make us like God, knowing good and evil. Knowing as much about evil as we apparently do, might not some good usefully correct the balance? Meanwhile, we kvetch: our bones wither away, because of our groaning all day long. [Read more…]
Where to start with Lowell Bennion, a man whose virtues almost defy enumeration? Best, perhaps, to follow his own example and cut to “the weightier matters.”  Although he was a theologian, teaching thousands of students in his decades as director of the Salt Lake City Institute that religion should involve the mind and the spirit (a message distilled into his classic book Religion and the Pursuit of Truth), Bennion’s greatest theological impact came from how he lived his life, inspired by these favorite words from Micah: “what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
Mormon Lectionary Project: Ash Wednesday
The Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Like Advent, Lent signals new life on the horizon. Shorn of all the secular trappings of Easter, the beginning of Lent is thus, along with First Advent, perhaps holier than the holiday it precedes. It is a day worth paying attention to, but in doing so, we admit our Anglo-Catholic tendencies. We Protestants (and Mormonism, whatever its doctrinal divergences, is culturally low church Protestant) have had an uneasy relationship with Lent, the 40 days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Henry VIII, for example, allowed the eating of dairy products, hitherto forbidden during Lent, in his new English church. The Puritans abolished Lent altogether before it was reinstated by Charles II in 1664. By Victorian times, it had almost disappeared from English custom as one Yorkshireman ruefully noted in 1865: [Read more…]
I assure you that the message of Mormon women is needed by women of the world today.
― Belle S. Spafford, “Latter-day Saint Women in Today’s Changing World,” February 1975Belle Spafford served as General Relief Society President of the Church for nearly 30 years, from 1945 to 1972. During that time she also served as a delegate to the National Women’s Council in New York for 42 years, including as the President of the Council from 1968 to 1970. Her tenure as General Relief Society President began at the close of World War II and later encompassed President David O. McKay’s mission of expanding the reach of the Church internationally to bring the Gospel to many nations. President Spafford served as General Relief Society President under six different Presidents of the Church. [Read more…]
Nephi famously delights in plainness, pledging to speak the doctrine of Christ “according to the plainness of [his] prophesying.” Surely the core doctrine of baptism—the topic of Nephi’s discussion—needs to be presented in a straightforward manner, lest confusion arise. And yet, what does “plainness” mean, exactly? Does plainness require that a speaker eschew all ornamentation, or style? Beyond that, what does it mean to “delight in plainness”? [Read more…]