Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christ Conquers

Three years ago I shared an Easter Hymn here and mentioned that I had used it as the basis for a church talk. This has been on my mind a great deal lately, and I'm feeling impressed to share a larger portion of the talk I gave at that time. Lucky for you, I keep the word documents of all my talks. ☺

As I read through the hymn, I felt prompted to focus on the final line of each verse—the lines about conquering. So I will be speaking about how the atonement helps us conquer these three things: pain, death, and fear.

That Easter morn, a grave that burst
Proclaimed to man that “Last and First”
Had ris’n again
And conquered pain.
The atonement covers several types of pain. The first, and I think the easiest to understand, is the pain of sin. When we commit sins, we feel guilt and separation from Christ. The atonement gives us the ability to repent, and therefore the ability to conquer the pain of sin.
But the healing effects of the atonement are not limited to sins. Isaiah taught “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Christ’s sufferings in Gethsamane cover our sins, and the guilt and pain associated with them, but they also cover our grief and sorrows. When we truly understand the atonement, we realize that we can give our sorrows to Christ in the same way we can give Him our sins. Children seem to know this innately—they can be so sad and yet comforted so easily. Adults struggle with this, but it is something we can learn too, and with practice, it becomes easier.
This is not to say that it is wrong to grieve sometimes, over the death of a loved one for example, but to wallow in sorrows and depression is not the Lord’s way, and the atonement can help us to rise above those pains.

This morn renews for us that day
When Jesus cast the bonds away,
Took living breath
And conquered death.

There are two kinds of death—physical and spiritual. Christ’s atonement overcame both. Physical death is separation of the body and spirit. Spiritual death is separation from God. If these two kinds of death had not been overcome by Jesus’ atonement, two consequences would have resulted: our bodies and our spirits would have been separated forever, and we could not have lived again with our Heavenly Father.
I have already talked about the gift of repentance, and how it overcomes pain and spiritual death. We know the doctrine about physical death, and that through Christ we can all be resurrected. But I want to share a personal experience about when I came to understand that principle.
One morning, when I was 8 years old, my parents called us kids into their room. I was the oldest, and had four siblings—ages 6, 5, 3, and 9 months. Mom was crying, and Dad gathered us all onto their bed and explained that our baby sister had died in the night. I still had the innocence and pure faith of childhood, and my recent baptismal covenants were fresh on my mind, so I took it for granted that Amy had returned to Jesus and everything was ok. I missed her, but I did not really grieve. I was even confused by my parents tears, and brought my dad my new bible and pointed out a verse we had read together just days earlier, from the chapter about Jarius’ daughter: “why make ye this ado, and weep? The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth.” My parents printed that verse in Amy’s funeral program. And so it is that the atonement brings us comfort with the knowledge that death is not a permanent loss, but just a resting time—a waiting for the resurrection.

Thus we in gratitude recall
And give our love and pledge our all,
Shed grateful tear
And conquer fear.
The gospel is full of symbols. When we take the sacrament, the bread and water are symbols of Christ’s body and blood—we all know that part. But the actual act of partaking of them is a symbol of our commitment back to Him—to keep His spirit within us, to remember him, and to live as He taught. We “give our love and pledge our all” As we do so, we are able to conquer fear.

I find the progression of the song interesting—first to conquer pain, then death, then fear. As though fear were the biggest of the three. Actually, I think fear IS the hardest one to conquer. There are many kinds of pain—physical pain can be remedied with proper attention or medicine; guilt can be cured with repentance, grief is relieved with time and the comforting knowledge of eternal life. There are two kinds of death, temporal and spiritual, both relieved by the atonement. But fear is difficult to pin down, and creeps in when least expected.
We have been taught that fear is the opposite of faith, and since faith is the basis of the rest of religion, then fear would be religion’s greatest adversary. The scriptures teach us that faith casts out fear. Without the atonement, we would have no eternal life to look forward to or have faith in: The atonement is the basis of hope and faith, therefore the atonement conquers fear—nothing else could do so. Jeffrey R Holland states that “the Atonement of the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh is the crucial foundation upon which all Christian doctrine rests and the greatest expression of divine love this world has ever been given. Its importance in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cannot be overstated. Every other principle, commandment, and virtue of the restored gospel draws its significance from this pivotal event.”
Christ says “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” Looking to Christ, following His commandments, and accepting His atonement, will bring in faith and cast out fear.

A metaphor occurred to me that I wanted to share.
When I was expecting my first baby I read a lot of childbirth books. One concept I came across many times was called the “Fear-tension-pain cycle” The idea is that when the laboring woman is scared of what her body is doing, then she gets tense, and being tense makes it harder for her body to labor, so she feels pain...the pain makes her scared, so she becomes more tense, and so the cycle continues. The books then go on to suggest ways to release fear and tension, which, in turn, alleviates the pain of childbirth. To bring it back to the atonement—when we are afraid to turn to Christ, and to give him our sins and sorrows, we end up stumbling around on our own, causing ourselves even greater pain. If we will learn to release our fears, to replace them with faith, then we will find that the pain also fades away.

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