Easter is a month away. Last year, I read an article by one of our critics stating that Latter-day Saints don’t emphasize Easter as much as other denominations do. I gave that some serious reflection and decided that, this year, I would write an article an Easter-related article each week in the month before the holiday to dispel that notion.
I can see where non-Mormons might get that perception. The Bible doesn’t command believers to celebrate Easter as a holiday. Instead, Jesus commanded his disciples to partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, the emblems of his body and blood, to remember him. This sacred ordinance is repeated weekly in Mormon worship services. In essence, we celebrate the atoning sacrifice of Jesus and his resurrection every week, instead of just once a year. We don’t hold special “sunrise services” on Easter. We don’t dress up in any special attire, Easter bonnets, etc. just because it’s Easter. We don’t have any special pomp and ceremony on that day. We don’t criticize other denominations that do those things. For us, every Sunday gets the same focus on the risen Lord.
In this article, I’d like to begin with the reason for Easter to begin with. Why is there an Easter holiday? In particular, I will address these remarks to non-Christians. As a result, my approach isn’t an attempt to convert someone or to prove our doctrine with scripture. I simply wish to facilitate understanding. I recognize that other denominations have other beliefs. I’ll just be presenting our beliefs as simply and succinctly as I can.
To understand Easter, we have to understand the origins of our own mortality–why we die. Mormons believe that humanity’s first parents were Adam and Eve. God created them in an immortal state. Because they lacked knowledge of good and evil, they were also innocent, like little children. The Creator commanded them to be fruitful and to multiply. He also gave them a second commandment: a prohibition against eating the fruit of a specific tree. That tree is referred to as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Some religions believe this is a myth or a metaphor. Mormons believe there was an actual tree and that the partaking of that fruit wrought a change in the bodies of our immortal First Parents and made them degenerate into mortal beings. It is interesting to note that God, in his kindness and mercy, did not create humans in a mortal form. He made us immortal and then placed us in an environment where choices and consequences were available.
Adam and Eve were tempted to partake of the fruit of the tree, to engage in an act of disobedience. They didn’t have a knowledge of good and evil, so they were ignorant of the nature of these opposites. The Tempter made the act of disobedience alluring, promising that they would obtain the knowledge of good and evil for themselves, if they would simply break one little rule their Heavenly Father had given them. They were promised by the Deceiver that they would be like the gods, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5, 22). This knowledge was desirable and the Tempter allayed their fears of consequences, dismissing God’s warning that they would die if they partook of the fruit. They ate the fruit of the tree and indeed, they gained a knowledge of good and evil. But doing so had a price: death. The nature of their bodies changed and they became mortal.
Adam and Eve traded innocence for knowledge. The knowledge they desired meant taking on mortality and all the joys and pains associated with it. Nevertheless, had they not fallen from that state of innocence, none of us would be here. The choice to seek knowledge by experience opened up the path for all of us to come into mortality and learn and grow in the same manner. In this aspect, there was a blessing associated with the fall of Adam and Eve as well as two negative consequences. If Adam and Eve had not partaken of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they never would have had children and none of us would be here.
The two negative consequences were spiritual death and physical death. Physical death is understandable. Because we are mortal, we die. Spiritual death is eternal separation from God. No unclean thing can dwell in God’s presence. Because of our own personal weaknesses and sins, all of us are unclean. None of us is able to overcome this condition on our own.
God’s plan foresaw this condition. He did not want to lose us. He loves us because he is our Heavenly Father. We are his children–his family. He loved us so much that he provided a Redeemer to save us. Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was and is that Redeemer. God the Father miraculously conceived a child by the blessed mortal woman we know as Mary. Her child, Jesus, had the fullness of God’s power, authority, and virtue within him. Yet he was a mortal man. Unlike our Heavenly Father, who is an immortal being with a glorified, perfected body, Jesus had the ability to die.
These abilities gave him power to overcome the temptations and trials of mortal existence. He was the unspotted Lamb of God, without blemish. Having no sins of his own, he alone could have returned to God’s presence. Because he was filled with love and compassion for all of us, a characteristic of his Father and our Father, his God and our God, he was willing to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin.
The Book of Mormon teaches this principle clearly. No man can atone for his own sins, because he is tainted by sin. He is also mortal and finite. Only an infinite sacrifice, the shedding of the blood of a perfect, holy, eternal being, could possibly pay the price of sin (2 Nephi 9:7). Jesus qualified to make that sacrifice. He willingly laid down his life to save us. As Isaiah said, through his stripes, we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). He took the “beating” for our own deliverance.
Many men in this life have died for noble causes. Jesus alone could die to save all mankind. Another attribute he inherited from his immortal Father was the power over life and death. In the weeks before his own death, he demonstrated that power by raising his friend Lazarus from the grave back to mortality. He taught his disciples that he had the power to lay down his life and take it up again. On Easter, we celebrate that Jesus did that very thing. He rose from the dead after his body had lain in the tomb for three days. Because of his resurrection, he offers us the gift of a personal, physical resurrection. Paul taught that because of Christ, all shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22). John taught that all that are in the graves will come forth, both the wicked and the righteous, to be judged according to the deeds in the flesh (John 5:28-29).
Thus Jesus overcame physical death by his resurrection and he overcame spiritual death (separation from God) by his sacrifice. He offers us a remission of sins if we will accept his atoning sacrifice, repent of our sins, transform our lives, and follow him obediently in faith.
Many uninformed people think Mormons do not believe in grace. This is not so. We believe, as the Book of Mormon teaches, that it is only through the atonement of Jesus Christ that salvation comes.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved” (2 Nephi 10:24)
“And now, my son, I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness” (Alma 38:9).
As we approach Easter week, check back to read upcoming articles related to Mormonism and the Easter holiday. Thanks for reading!