Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Heart of The Book of Mormon

Scott Vanatter, July 21, 2013

PICTURE

Picture with me, in your mind’s eye, that you are present at the crowning event -- the heart -- of The Book of Mormon. The Lord Jesus Christ descends out of heaven and stands before you -- in all his majesty, grandeur, and glory – yet somewhat paradoxically, with a sweet inner humility. And you are drawn to Him.

The darkness has dispersed. As the new day begins to dawn, you gravitate toward the Temple. You finally recognize the voice of Heavenly Father introducing his Beloved Son. This is the moment that has been prophesied for so many years. This is the moment you have eagerly awaited.

You can see him with your natural eyes. But, in a special way, you now see him as never before with your spiritual eyes – the eyes of your understanding. You see him as he is. You not only see his face, you see and understand his heart better than ever before.  And yours swells as wide as eternity.

You can feel his love for everyone there, for everyone everywhere, and for you.  You yearn that someday soon everyone you know will see as you see, know as you know, and love Him as you love Him. Everyone. Your faith is being made perfect; but you do not lay it aside. It is now more powerful than ever before, and is the moving cause of all your thoughts, desires, and actions.

Yes, the darkness is now gone. You were shocked at how palpably exquisite, how perfectly dark it was across the land. But now in its place, is a light which lightens every part of your soul. Though it is new to you, it is so very familiar. The light of his countenance enlightens your eyes, both physical and spiritual. And warms your heart. You know this is the Christ. You are now one of his special witnesses.

ONE BY ONE

And it is about to become that much more real, that much more intimate.

The Book of Mormon records that there were with you that first day of the Lord’s visit to the Land Bountiful, two thousand five hundred souls. The prophet was careful to record that the 2,500 consisted of men, women and children. Ah, the children.

It is still early in the morning when Jesus gently commands, “14 Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth…”

I estimate that it may have taken about seven hours for all 2,500 to personally encounter the Savior -- to become and stand forever as one of His special witnesses. Memorialized on plates of gold, and in the words of a book (as is reported in Isaiah 29), and also written on the fleshy tablets of our hearts -- and seared into every corner of our minds. We will never forget those loving eyes for as long as we live. And, ultimately, we will live forever!

Without being directed in how to do so, naturally and without commotion the gathered crowd nearest to Him quietly dissolves into something of a line so that everyone would be able to personally greet the Savior of the whole world – one-by-one as he said. There is no pushing, no shoving. No worry that anyone would miss out. Those of us who wait for hours somehow know that we needed just an extra bit of time to prepare to meet our loving and beloved Lord.

Imagine further on that day, that you are one of the last of those who humbly but with full purpose of heart approach the Savior. See yourself among loved ones -- and with your beloved angel ancestors and descendants in attendance by your side just beyond the veil. Slowly your part of the gathered crowd moves nearer to where the Savior is waiting for you.

Now, your group is getting nearer to him. You can see him much more closely now. There are only twenty or so persons before you. Now, there are only two or three people between you and the Savior. Now, there is no one between you and Him. It seems your physical surroundings have disappeared around you. The soft sounds of the birds and the gentle breeze, and the almost imperceptible breathings in and out of the crowd fade into a peaceful, barely perceptible, rhythmic silence -- a still, small ambient background hum. Previously, when there was darkness and silence in the land, the silence was empty. Now, this new silence is the polar opposite of that lonely silence. Now it is filled with the experiential moment of just you and Him. What you see and what you hear for the next few moments will suffice till that day when you can -- with your loved ones -- read the round of eternity and stand in his presence in One Eternal Now (as Joseph Smith describes it) and partake of this fullness to your heart’s content. This new silence is filled with all the beautiful anticipation and focus of meeting the One who you now seem to recognize as your true Friend. You seem to remember being with Him for time immemorial, living and learning in his presence prior to our coming to earth. You had learned so much, yet you knew – truly knew -- only so much. Now, with a lifetime of experience filled with the joyous heights and the lonely, painful depths – you bring your whole soul’s experience to the One who gave his whole soul – for you. For me. For the whole world.

ONE WITH HIM

Now, you are standing in front of him. After a life of prayer and service and worship, you now come unto him – and with no need of deception or shame. You are repentant. You meet the One who made forgiveness both theoretically possible in everyone’s life and individually effectual in your own. More than ever before, you now know you are forgiven. You are clean. You are whole. You are at One with the Holy One of Israel.

As you draw near to him, he softly calls your name. So naturally does your name fall from his lips, you are surprised that you are not surprised at his naming your poor name.

Now, you begin to kneel. But he reaches out his arm, and takes you into his close embrace. Heart to heart, you are encircled about in His love. In an instant you see and know not only that he has totally forgiven you – even in your halting repentance – but that he completely loves you. You know that he knows your sorrows, and yearnings for the Divine. He knows your efforts, he knows your strivings, he knows you.

The veil of forgetfulness is now so very thin. You now see clearly things that are just between Him and you. Things you previously stumbled to find utterance when you could barely formulate a prayer. You had forgotten some of these prayers, some of these strivings. Now, the whole span of your existence and your relationship with Him stretches out in both directions, forever.

Now, you realize it is time that you humbly follow his gentle command, to feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet -- and in his side. Yes, you are aware that they stand as a temporary symbol of the suffering he must have bore on your behalf . . . but now you see that in these tokens, they also more perfectly reflect the transference of your pains and sorrows and infirmities through him and into the abyss. Yes! He has overcome Death and Hell and Pain and Sorrow. He has vanquished them all. They have no power over you – not that they ever really did. As you withdraw your hand from his side, he wipes away the tears you now realize are rolling down your cheek.

YOUR CONTINUED WALK

As you walk on to an area off to the side with your group of family and friends, you turn your head to glance back at him as you make way for others to follow in your footsteps. Time indeed stood still while you heard him call you by name, while you looked into his eyes, while He embraced you as dear friends, while you felt the warmth of his embrace and the warmth of the Love of Christ. Your love is now pure, your love is now overflowing, your love now yearns to reach out even as he reached out. To do His will, to be his disciple, to take upon you His Name, his power, his desire, his purpose, and even the Divine Nature of the Father – which Christ so perfectly reflects.

Though your feet are on solid ground, sacred ground, you almost feel like you are floating, gliding just above the earth. Soon the sounds of a beautiful earth return to your ears . . . One day in the future you will encounter another pain or sorrow. But not today. Not now. Everything is in perspective, everything is in its proper frame, everything is right, you now know that He will make things right – sooner or later. Somehow, without words, you know that you and your loved ones will be made perfect and live forever in His presence. After all, as Paul, his most bold apostle, and as Joseph Smith, the prophet of the Restoration have said, “They without us cannot be made perfect, and we without them cannot be made perfect.” In other words, none of those who the Father hath given Jesus will be lost. We will not cease in our eternal labors to recover and rescue the lost and the unconnected till they are found and at one. Till they willingly and without compulsion discover the joys of a close embrace, their own At-One-ment with him. [1]

CENTRAL THEME; INTIMATE EPIC

On its face The Book of Mormon is the intimate story of an epic journey of a family trekking across an ocean to a new land, a new world, a land of promise. It is the story of the clash of brothers, a clash of cousins, cultures, and civilizations -- inter-tribal disagreements, grudges, and warfare from generation to generation – even as we can see in the Middle East to this very day.

The story is personality and hero and prophet driven -- a continuing clash of faithful leaders against unbelieving sophists, lawyers, challengers -- against wicked kings, against the evil of all kinds and in all places. Sometimes wickedness where there should have been righteousness. Yet, the title page of the book declares that it was written not only to convince the world that Jesus is the Christ, but also to comfort those who have messed up that they are not “cast off forever.”

MARVELOUS WORK AND A WONDER

Now, as great and marvelous a work and a wonder as was the translation of The Book of Mormon, and as key as it is to understanding the Restoration in these latter days, it is not so much the context of The Book of Mormon – as important as that is – it is the internal spiritual message of the text itself which has the real power do a marvelous work in our lives.

As it says on the title page, that the book was written “to the convincing of [of the whole world] that Jesus is the Christ” – and in the very last chapter, that by applying Moroni’s promise, one can know not only the truth of The Book of Mormon, but “the truth of all things,” and especially, quote, “ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost. [2]

BECOME AS A LITTLE CHILD

So, I reckon that the Savior descended out of heaven early in the morning that first day. After he declares himself to be the Son of God, and after they had all gone forth one-by-one, Jesus preached about baptism. Concluding this initial important sermon, he summarized, “37 . . . I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.

Then he immediately repeated himself. “38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.”

Again the children. This presages what will happen later that afternoon. [3]

“1 . . . Jesus . . . looked round about again on the multitude . . . he said unto them: Behold, my time is at hand. 2 I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. 3 Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again. 4 But now I go unto the Father . . . .”  

Again, you don’t want this day to end. But you have had enough and to overflowing. You dare not ask him to tarry longer. You don’t want to be that demanding. He has been so generous.

“5 . . . when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.”

So, you did indeed “ask” him to tarry, just not in words. Kind of like the silent prayers you offer every now and then. Even if you do not form the words in your mind or even your lips. You are, in effect, praying always.

COMPASSION

So, in response to your yearning for him to stay, he says, “6 . . . Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.” [4]

LITTLE CHILDREN

Then, “11 . . . he commanded that their little children should be brought.”

Remember, he has twice asked you to become as a little child. Innocent, believing, submissive, joyful, happy. Remember, in the most fortunate of circumstances, little children are somewhat oblivious to the harshness of the world. Little children are usually protected from the evils of the world. They love everyone, they can find happiness in the most simple of things. A ball, a leaf, a cat or dog, a smile, a hug. They see and explore the world through eyes un-tinged by cynicism, or skepticism. They believe. So joyous are they at life in general, often in traveling from here to there, they’d skip along, happy and content! Can we translate this innocent joyous believing approach to life into our adult lives? Yes. With God inspiring us.

So, these parents who had been so counseled, “12 . . . brought their little children and set them down upon the ground round about him, and Jesus stood in the midst; and the multitude gave way till they had all been brought unto him.”

PRAYER CANNOT BE WRITTEN, HE WEPT

“14 . . . when they had knelt upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of . . . wickedness . . . 15 And when he had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him.

“16 And after this manner do they bear record: ‘The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father; 17 And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and [further] no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.”

Now, this was still not the end of the day, or the end of your inconceivable joy. Or his.

Because “18 . . . when Jesus had made an end of praying unto the Father, he arose; but so great was the joy of the multitude that they were overcome.  19 And . . . Jesus spake unto them, and bade them arise. 20 And they arose from the earth, and he said unto them: Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full. 21 And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it,”

WHY WEEP?

Why did he weep? For joy! The simple answer is that he is much more connected emotionally to the children than we are, if not infinitely more so.

Another simple answer: It is for you he wept! Jesus also wept at the raising of his dear friend, Lazarus. When he wept for Lazarus, he wept not so much only for Lazarus sake, but I suspect for the scintillating, thunderstruck moment that some will have when they realize Christ’s power is enough to raise the dead physically, and the cold heartless hearts that only beat with hate or disdain or indifference, or scorn to a spiritual heights. [5]

BLESSED ONE BY ONE; HE WEPT AGAIN

So, after praying for all of them, now “he took [each of them], one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.” This must have taken another hour or two. The record reports that it is not evening yet.

So, Jesus wept prior to praying for all the children, then after blessing each of them one-by-one over the period of another hour or so, “22 . . . he wept again;”

Why does he weep now? Perhaps because he knew he was helping us see the value of not so much all children, but each individual child. [6]

BEHOLD YOUR LITTLE ONES

So, we come back to the literal account of the wonderful scene. He has wept twice over the children, once for all of them, a second time for each of them. He then turns to us, the parents of these children and says, “23 . . . Behold your little ones.”

24 And [. . . we] looked . . . saw the heavens open, and [we] saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled [our] little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.

Who were these angels? Perhaps it was ancestors; perhaps it was descendents. Perhaps it was you.

Who knows but what there are angels descending and encircling our loved ones in celestial fire at the key times in their lives, but we don’t see them. [7]

BEHOLD YOURSELF

So, as Nephi says, if we liken the scriptures unto ourselves, we might see ourselves as one of these children. If so, then it is for you that he prayed for in words too sacred to record. It is you he blessed. It is you he wept for -- for joy.

CHALLENGE TO READ

As you may know, the stake president invited the youth to read The Book of Mormon this Summer. Today he extends the same invitation to the rest of the stake. By the way, I’m with many of you, I’m in 1 Nephi - -a truly wonderful portion of the book. A good place to start!

I invite us all to dive in, catch the wave of its being spread throughout the world, read ponder and pray about its eternally-challenging contents. There is nothing quite like it, in that it was a single author (Mormon) editing his people's records for future generations' use. For our use. For my use. For your use.

CHALLENGE TO SHARE

As you may also know, the Broadway play titled, The Book of Mormon, started this month in Washington DC. The stake president has offered the simple suggestion that when our friends, neighbors, or co-workers mention the play, or ask us about it, we simply say something like, “Would you like to read it?” And hand them one while you ask. This would require we have one on hand, just in case.

So, I took a book to work, and wouldn’t you know it, in a company meeting on Monday six days ago the topic of the play came up. One person said they saw the play and didn’t care at all for the tacky, crude humor. They said it was not about the book itself, but about two young na├»ve, well-meaning Mormon missionaries. I said, “I’m a Mormon, and I served a mission when I was young.” We wrapped up this part of our conversation by her saying that she was a Hindu and didn’t appreciate it that the authors of the play took such cheap shots at a religion that happened to be a bit different. That she would not have appreciated it if Hinduism had been targeted. As it was, she did not recommend the play to the group or to me.

So, at the end of the business day, I asked her, “Well, you’ve seen the play, would you like to read the book?” She said sure, that she grew up in Rochester, New York and had been to the Hill Cumorah pageant many times, but never received a copy of the book. I do not anticipate that she will start the lessons, much less join the church anytime soon. Perhaps someday. Perhaps sooner, rather than later. I guess I’ll have to bring another copy of the book to work.

PROMISE

From experience and from intuition and inspiration, I promise that you will find new, even hidden treasures in the book when you read it again. And I am confident you will see old and familiar treasures with new eyes. After all, since you last read it, you have experienced life in ways which have connected you that much more dearly to our Savior.

TESTIMONY

The older I get, the more I glory and joy in The Book of Mormon. I love its heroes, I love its visions, its prophecies, its structure, its sermons, its message.

Because of The Book of Mormon, I love our Savior that much more. Paraphrasing Nephi, I do love my Jesus, my exemplar and friend that much more because of The Book of Mormon.

It is in His name that I pray to share this inner witness and the tangible evidence of it – The Book of Mormon -- in all its sweeping grandeur, and its personal insights and intimate messages for me and for you and our friends. I pray I adhere that much more closely to my Savior as he is revealed in these sacred pages, even Jesus Christ. Amen.

# # #

NOTES

#1 This is his heart’s desire and joy. This is now our heart’s labor which is a joy as sweet as any we’ve known. It becomes delicious unto us. It is no burden to be like him. It is our pleasure and self-imposed motivation now to share and love and be like Him.

Yes, for the few seconds you were with him personally, time seemed to slow down, time seemed to stand still. You hoped those few seconds would never end. In an important way, they never will. They are with you for all time and throughout all eternity.

#2 The Book of Mormon has power to transform the lives of adults who sincerely read it for the first time. It has power to infuse in youth with the spirit and power and yearning for truth – the diamond truth that Jesus loves everyone. It has power to educate and ennoble even the most skeptical of learned professors of academia. It has power to touch the hearts of little children as they read or listen to Book of Mormon stories that their teachers tell them. That their parents tell them. That their older brothers and sisters tell them when they read aloud to their toddler siblings.

#3 He continues to teach into the afternoon principles and doctrine similar to that of the Sermon on the Mount. Late in the afternoon he is about to conclude for the day. Quote:

#4 He asks that you bring those among you who were “sick or . . . afflicted in any manner.” “Bring them hither,” he said, “and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.” And they did bring them, and he did heal them. “…and as many as could come . . . did kiss his feet, insomuch that they did bathe his feet with their tears.”

#5 Hearts can and will change. I submit to you that he weeps for all good reasons including and especially those who repent and turn to the good, the holy, the light-filled, the connected.

Lazarus can be seen as a stand in for you and for me. More than likely he has wept for you, not only symbolically via Lazarus, but literally, in the heavens for you too. Not because he fears you will falter, or will not make it, or will suffer, but that he knows and loves you and weeps at the anticipatory joy at your overcoming all, and being with him where he is in the eternities.

When he weeps for the children, he can be seen as weeping for you. In this case, he wept probably not because of wickedness per se which he previously mentioned, but that these children, all children, would ultimately be redeemed and live forever in eternal happiness in spite of wickedness in the world. Perhaps he wept because as he knows that he has overcome the world, he knows that these children will too – with him — overcome the world. And be with him in one of the mansions he would prepare for them. Perhaps he wept because he knows that none of those which the Father has given him would be lost. In Palestine He asked the Father that they all be with him in the eternities.

#6 Perhaps he wept now, because He so wants us to see each child as precious as He does, and I seem to get the feeling that he is weeping because we are beginning to see anew how precious each child of God is. Each one. Every one. Individually. Not just collectively.

#7 The record states, “25 And the multitude did see and hear and bear record; and they know that their record is true for they all of them did see and hear, every man for himself.

< By the way, just before the day turns to night, Jesus institutes the sacrament. >