Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Bright Sadness

On the trail
2016 has been off to a rough start. Had a mental break-down in the middle of volunteering for the Sundance Film Festival. Crawled through an anxiety-riddled 29th birthday. Tried turning things around and made some progress, but got chewed out by a therapist (?!) and ended up feeling pretty miserable. Not to mention exuding a general coldness towards the people I care about most.

Sorry, world!

This is probably too much to divulge onto the internet, but I'm hoping it would provide some context. Things are getting better. I've been blessed by surprise opportunities and patient friends. It can just be a struggle to keep perspective.

I was asked to speak at church a couple weeks ago and gave my talk on Easter Sunday. I generally take whatever assignment I'm given and try to combine it with whatever I've been thinking about lately. I try and write the talk that I wish I could hear.

So, here it is! Hope it brings some Hope.

A Bright Sadness

For the past several years, I have given up something for Lent. Lent in primarily observed in Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions and covers a period of 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday. In the past, I’ve given up social media, sugar, and sleep, with varying degrees of success. This year, I gave up meat, and was thrilled that the ward chose to celebrate the last day of Lent with me by providing bacon after we finished cleaning the church yesterday.

But along with my small chosen sacrifice for the season, I also attempted to better understand the tradition of Lent and what it means to our fellow Christians. The Greek Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann describes this season as a “bright sadness”. It is meant as a time of fasting and sacrifice where we contemplate the situation of man in a fallen world. As a consequence of the fall, we will all experience sadness and hardship. Sin is often the main cause our estrangement from God. Trials and challenges may also lead us to think that we have been abandoned or that there is not hope for us. I am sure that many of us have felt that type of sadness at some point in our lives. But the main message of Lent and of the gospel as a whole, is that despite the darkness that sometimes surrounds us, we can find hope in the Savior. This hope comes through understanding the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

All are invited to partake of Christ’s atonement. No burden is too heavy and no circumstance is too bleak. And while we have seen of late how easy it is to segregate ourselves in the world and pit ourselves against one another, the good news of the gospel of invites us all to come unto him despite our differences.

… for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and hi inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

How is Christ able to promise succor to all God’s children? It is through the miracle of the atonement. All of us are in need of intercession as a consequence of the fall. In the Doctrine and Covenants, it outlines how we became separated from our Heavenly Father:

40 Wherefore, it came to pass that the devil tempted Adam, and he partook of the forbidden fruit and transgressed the commandment, wherein he became subject to the will of the devil, because he yielded unto temptation.
41 Wherefore, I, the Lord God, caused that he should be cast out from the Garden of Eden, from my presence, because of his transgression, wherein he became spiritually dead…

The atonement is what corrects and overcomes the consequences of these choices. It saves us from sin and death. It reconciles us with God and brings us back into the Holy Ghost’s sphere of influence. In Isaiah, a prophecy is made concerning how this redemption will come to all men:

3 He is 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.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 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.

Through the miracle of the atonement, our sins, though as scarlet, may be white as snow. It is everlasting and can cover all of us, even though it may seem we are at the furthest edge of where it can reach. We are given the gift of agency, which puts the responsibility on us to let the atonement work in our lives. When we make covenants, keep the commandments, and serve others, we are inviting the blessings of the atonement into our lives. The atonement allows us to cultivate hope. It will serve as a beacon and bring comfort. Paul beautifully describes this hope in his epistle to the Corinthians:

6 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed…
17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;

The Jesuit Priest, Reverend James Martin shares how this type of hope can help transform our earthly experience:

“Some days are indeed times of great pain and some are of great joy, but most are…in between. Most are, in fact, times of waiting… Waiting to get into a good school. Waiting to meet the right person…Waiting to get a job… Waiting for life just to get better. 
But there are different kinds of waiting. There is the wait of despair. Here we know—at least we think we know—that things could never get better, that God could never do anything with our situations. This may be the kind of waiting that forced the fearful disciples to hide behind closed doors on Holy Saturday, cowering in terror…Then there is the wait of passivity, as if everything were up to “fate.” In this waiting there is no despair, but not much anticipation of anything good either. 
Finally, there is wait of the Christian, which is called hope. It is an active waiting; it knows that, even in the worst of situations, even in the darkest times, God is at work. Even if we can’t see it clearly right now. The disciples’ fear was understandable, but we, who know how the story turned out, who know that Jesus will rise from the dead, who know that God is with us, who know that nothing will be impossible for God, are called to wait in faithful hope…”

In Moroni7:41 we read:

41 And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.

But one of the most beautiful lessons the gospel teaches, is that through the Lord, we can accomplish all things. Even the unimaginable. One of my favorite stories is of Martha, Mary, and their brother, Lazarus. Jesus had received word that Lazarus was sick but by the time he had come to the family, Lazarus had been dead for two days. Mary and Martha had faith in Christ, in fact, when Marry meets him she bears a small testimony saying “If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died”. But her vision was limited. She had faith in Christ’s power, but had placed her own limits on his abilities. In John we read:

39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

In this example, Christ shows the true power of the Gospel and that it can surpass mortal understanding. He declares.

25 I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die…

            Mary had faith that Lazarus could have been healed had Christ been there, and she also had hope that he could attain life after death. But she didn’t realize that the power of God could stretch farther than that. Like Mary and the crowd of mourners, I often place limits on what I think the Lord can accomplish in my life. I have a mustard seed of faith, but hold to doubts that it can become anything more than a seedling. Oftentimes I excuse myself by saying that I am simply being realistic, but in reality, it is a lack of faith. Christ’s atonement and resurrection are evidence that nothing is impossible through his power.

I was blessed to see first-hand the changes that come through the atonement of Jesus Christ as I taught investigators and members. For the last 6 weeks of my mission, I served with a sister from Bolivia, Over time, I came to realize that she was illiterate. She could wrestle through reading a scripture out loud, but couldn’t understand what she had read. I also discovered that she had been abused and was most likely suffering from PTSD. She had severe anxiety and refused to speak up during lessons, let alone talk with people on the street. But she was one of the sweetest companions I had, and always looked for opportunities to serve. I became accustomed to our routines and accepted as fact that I would do all the talking, tracting and teaching till I finished my mission. On my last night as a missionary, we hurried toward the chapel for a baptism. I was so happy and distracted, I hardly noticed my companion slow her pace. Her face beamed as she spoke with a woman who was walking just behind us. She gave her name, and that she was a representative of Christ, and shared her testimony. I was shocked. After hardly speaking to anyone besides me for 6 weeks, she had shared a beautiful testimony of the love that Heavenly Father has for each of us to a complete stranger. It was a humbling moment. I was so focused on our investigators and my last days in the country; I had almost missed seeing the miraculous changes that were being worked in my companion.

Each of us will have our own sojourns in the wilderness, a time of Lent and fasting and sacrifice and sorrow. But as we end Lent and celebrate Easter, I am grateful for the knowledge of the atonement, and the hope we can find in the resurrection.

1 comment:

  1. best talk. so thoughtful, g-time. i was going to request it, but you beat me to it. thank you.