Your Easter Sermon: Food Storage

April 12, 2009 | 45 comments
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Every year on T&S there appears around Easter time a certain amount of Holy-Week envy. I haven’t seen any yet this year, and so I thought I’d take my turn to express a little. Or better, maybe this would be a good opportunity to get a sense of what is going on in Mormon Easter services nowadays. What happened in your ward this year?

My daughter’s student ward in Seattle had a Saturday evening service (the usual night for the vigil among most Christians), and a sacrament meeting devoted fully to Easter. My Utah ward included two choir numbers, one of them about Easter, and the speakers discussed their favorite conference talk. Not my ideal, but it wasn’t bad, because the speakers were very genuine. Better than some years ago when the Easter day theme was food storage. I kid you not. And what about the lessons in Sunday School and Relief Society and Priesthood? Just whatever’s next in the manual?

I don’t know of any good reasons why Mormons can’t engage in Holy Week, or develop one of their own (okay besides the fact that we already have too many meetings; so scuttle them that week), or at least have a serious Easter program on Sunday. We participate wholeheartedly in Christmas, and that’s a much more contrived holiday than Easter. But Easter seems to be a second-rate holiday among Mormons. Not only might it have benefits spiritually to develop such a week (one reason assorted Mormons attend Holy Week services put on by other faiths), and promote a greater awareness of the importance of the events of this week, but it would have the added benefit of letting other Christians know that yes Mormon beliefs in the events of this week are very much like theirs. Which I think a good thing to convey. In fact I suspect that the reason Holy Week did not develop in Mormonism was simply a negative reason: it was seen as too Catholic, or Episcopalian, or something. And since most emerging religions tend at first to develop their identity in a negative way (this is what we are NOT rather than this is what we ARE), it wouldn’t be surprising if we sought our identity partly in abandoning some of the things other Christians did, in order to differentiate. But again, I don’t see any reason now (except too many other activities during the week) why we couldn’t join the fun and celebration. The services I’ve attended on Good Friday or the Easter Vigil are some of the most moving I’ve ever known.

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45 Responses to Your Easter Sermon: Food Storage

  1. makakona on April 12, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    new rs presidency spoke, but they at least each covered a portion of christ’s life. had an intro flute and piano arrangement of “he is risen,” plus an easter song by the choir. lessons were the standard ones, booooo. we participate in the local catholic church’s holy week.

  2. Me Myself on April 12, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    We had a very weird Regional Stake Conference broadcast from Salt Lake. Very non-Easter-ish.

  3. Anon this time in case ward members read on April 12, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    We had four speakers who must have been assigned to speak about the Atonement, based on the general content of the poems and especially Elder Holland’s talk that were read to us (I mean really, it’s only been one week since we heard him give it, so why did we need three of the four speakers to read parts of it to us already?). Not one of the four mentioned the resurrection, just the suffering in Gethsemane. Nothing in Sunday School or Relief Society, either.

    We did get to sing “Christ Is Risen” as the closing hymn of the last hour of the block, which was the first celebratory Easter moment of the entire Sunday.

    Sigh.

  4. Nate Oman on April 12, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Craig: I think that you are right about why Holy Week is not such a big deal, although I suspect that it was less about early Mormons defining themselves in opposition to Catholicism and High Church protestantism than it was about Mormons inheriting a low-church Puritan sensiibility. The Puritans were defining themselves in oppoisiton to all forms of Popery, but I thinik that the early Mormons weren’t even thinking about it. Indeed, if anything with the temple were are more liturgical than the American protestantism from which we emerged.

    Interestingly, of course, Christmas was also an object of Purtan scorn. My understanding is that Mormons got into Christmas during the Nauvoo period, when the rhythms of Mormon life came under the heavily influnce of an influx of British converts that didn’t share the American distrust of Christmas. I wonder if there is some story to be told as to why they convinced Mormonism to get into Christmas but not Easter.

    For what it is worth, my ward had a wonderful Easter service with three excellent sermons on the Savior and the Resurrection along with chior numbers and a special violin number. Or at least the bits that I heard as I chased a grumpy 22-month-old around the hallway during sacrament meeting were great!

  5. dangermom on April 12, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    I want to do more Holy Week stuff, but this year was just not it. Bummer.

    Sac. Mtg was kind of odd–we had a missionary farewell speaker, who was very nice and sincere. Then we had a really lovely Easter talk from a woman in the ward; she did a wonderful job. The choir sang the closing hymn–boo, I say. It was “God be with you.” We didn’t get to sing any of the great Easter hymns that I wanted to sing. However the talk was great and Primary was good and so I’m reasonably satisfied. Next year I hope to do better with preparing myself.

  6. Craig H. on April 12, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Thanks all. Nate’s ward sounds great. I’ll bet you’re right Nate that low-church Puritanism is the source of the low opinion of Holy Week. But non-Puritan Brits weren’t against Easter, no more than against Christmas. Thanks for the clarification.

  7. Jana on April 12, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Our Seattle ward had a whole Easter program, with multiple hymns by the choir, interspersed with two talks and a few children’s testimonies. No complaints here!

  8. Nate Oman on April 12, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    The Brits who joined the Church were, as I understand it, overwhelmingly non-conformists, in other words low church. In the America low church puritans were hostile to Christmas from the seventeenth century on and my understanding is that carried into the nineteenth century. Low church Brits followed a different course, and groups like the United Brethren were Methodist off shoots, which means their low churchiness was a product of the eighteenth rather than the seventeenth century. Maybe they liked Christmas but not Easter. I don’t know.

    I also wonder how long Christmas has been a big deal for Mormons. I’ve read that they started to celebrate it in Nauvoo, but I wonder if the let’s-roll-out-the-Tabernacle-Chior level of celebration has more recent origins. There is also the oddity of Easter and April General Conference. I suspect that were it not for the proximity of General Conference there would be some sort of big Church-wide Easter fireside comperable to the First Presidence Christmas fireside. Just a guess, of course.

    Yes. My ward IS great.

  9. JA Benson on April 12, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    Our Sacrament service was really good. The choir was fantastic with prelude music and the final hymn. The talks were great. All centered on Christ and the Atonement. I would bet the missionaries in our ward were very happy with the program.

  10. namakemono on April 12, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    in Japan, we had General Conference – so at least there was some mention of Easter. Otherwise it would have been whatever is next in the textbook – same at Christmas (sigh…).

    One year teaching YW here on Easter Sunday, I asked them if they knew what day it was – no one did!! (double sigh!!!)

  11. Rob on April 12, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    OUr ward had 2 speakers that spoke about the Savior and the atonement, and 2 choir numbers. Nice meeting really.

  12. DavidH on April 12, 2009 at 10:49 pm

    Opening and closing hymns were Easter hymns, and choir did an Easter number. One talk was about service and the other about testimony. Priesthood lesson was from Joseph Smith manual about section 121. I missed Sunday School to be a teacher’s assistant in my wife’s doubled up primary class. There was no Easter lesson in her primary manual, so she made one up, focusing on the events of Holy Week (without using that terminology).

    I agree that Holy Week non-observance for LDS relates to time and location of Restoration. I think current resistance to Holy Week observances relates to the surplus of meetings in the Church already–theoretically canceling other meetings ought to work, but I am skeptical that all wards and stakes would really cancel the other meetings.

  13. Pam on April 12, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    We had a nice Easter themed Sacrament meeting. Three talks on Easter themes. We had a soloist sing “I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked” He was moved to tears and many in the congregation were in tears with him.

  14. The Right Trousers on April 13, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Stake conference: three Easter choir numbers and two congregationals, excellent talks on grace and the atonement. Our visiting AA70 was particularly forceful on the subject of Mormon guilt and that we *retain* remission of sins. Quotes, approximately:

    “I believe that the humble and faithful, when they sin, have these sins remitted immediately.”

    “This is a gospel of peace, not a gospel of guilt.”

    “I hope that our bishops, speakers and teachers never set out to make the Saints feel guilty. Our Sunday meetings should refresh and rejuvinate weary souls, not tear them down.”

    Altogether, it was an awesome meeting.

  15. P.S. on April 13, 2009 at 12:48 am

    We had our Ward’s tradition Easter program, put on by the choir. There were six choir pieces interspersed with narration. Get this, though: not a single one of the musical numbers had anything whatsoever to do with Easter! Well done, but somewhat uninspiring and confusing, since none of the musical pieces matched the narration.

  16. Angie on April 13, 2009 at 1:54 am

    Primary program describing the life of Christ up to His baptism, including two children’s talks about the Atonement:

    I Lived in Heaven
    Little Jesus (Christmas song)
    Baptism

    followed by two adult talks about the Plan of Salvation and Christ’s last week on earth and a ward choir rendition of “Beautiful Savior.”

  17. ukann on April 13, 2009 at 3:33 am

    UK Sacrament Meeting yesterday – a new missionary introduced himself then we had two wonderfully appropriate talks for Easter – jarring note was the absence of any Easter carols which we only get to sing one Sunday a year – boo! Evening we attended a Stake Easter presentation which was wonderful – the life, death and resurrection of the Saviour told by word and music, including beautifully edited clips of apostolic witnesses. This morning the Ward activity is short walk in our beautiful English countryside followed by egg-hunt and games for children – and as I write – we have spring sunshine in which to enjoy it.

  18. JES on April 13, 2009 at 7:09 am

    We had a regional stake conference broadcast. It seemed a shame that Salt Lake can’t schedule around Easter for those things. But, Pres Monson spoke, so perhaps he’s really busy traveling or something the other weeks of the year. All the speakers at least mentioned Easter and the hymns were Easter ones.

  19. Mark B. on April 13, 2009 at 7:12 am

    A great Easter program in my home ward sacrament meeting yesterday (which if I’m lucky I attend about twice a year, at Christmas and Easter).

    I wonder how much influence the Campbellites–Sidney Rigdon and Parley P. Pratt and all those others–had on early Mormon holiday-keeping. Even today the churches of Christ, one of the progeny of Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone, seem to accept Christmas as a secular holiday, but God have mercy on your soul if you happen to tie it to the birth of Christ. I don’t know if they have the same attitude toward Easter and Holy Week.

  20. Wilfried on April 13, 2009 at 8:02 am

    Thanks, Craig!

    Our family went to listen to the Tabernacle Choir broadcast in SLC with non-member friends from Belgium who are traveling through Utah. Beautiful program !

  21. bbell on April 13, 2009 at 9:27 am

    We had a full out easter program with choir, musical numbers, and easter driven talks. It was fantastic. We even had lillies up on the stand.

    I think that it really depends on the mind-set of the local leaders on what happens on Easter.

  22. Rameumptom on April 13, 2009 at 9:35 am

    The two wards in our building here in Indianapolis both focused on Easter. The morning ward had a specific program of short readings with Easter-themed music between each one. Best part: the violin/piano “O, It Is Wonderful.”

    The afternoon ward had three talks and three choir songs interspersed. One talk focused on Elder Holland’s talk, using bits and pieces that fit in well on the event.

    Both were great, the afternoon one perhaps a bit more spiritual and touching.

  23. Craig H. on April 13, 2009 at 10:50 am

    It’s great to hear about some of the Easter services, but perplexing to hear about those which neglect the music or the talks or both! Which as bbell says really suggests that these services are dependent on local leaders (and maybe especially the ward music leader). Which can be frustrating–can you imagine a ward missing either Christmas talks or music? I’d like to know without thinking twice, I’d like to assume, I’d like even a guarantee, that the service on Easter is going to be about Easter. And if it’s not, or is marginally so, what does that say about how much we really care about or understand the events of Easter week?

    I wrote a Catholic friend in the meantime, who knows Mormon culture well, about his perception of Mormon attitudes toward Holy Week, and how that might affect the attitudes other Christians have toward Mormons. His response was that “probably part of the suspicion of Mormons by many Christians has to do with the detachment of LDS believers from the liturgical calendar and celebration of major Christian feasts–which of course are organized around the life of Christ.” I’d go even further: I’d bet that Thanksgiving and Pioneer Day are probably more important to Mormons than Easter or Pentecost. Again, this isn’t primarily a public relations issue or even one of liturgical aesthetics (you know, to have a lovely Easter service): it’s about what this sporadic attention to the holiest events of Christianity says about Mormon beliefs.

  24. Tanya Spackman on April 13, 2009 at 10:55 am

    My DC ward had a great Easter sacrament meeting. It’s my first Easter in this ward, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it really was fabulous. All hymns were Easter-ish, there were two beautiful musical numbers, the Easter story was read directly from the New Testament by three sequential readers, and two talks were Easter-themed. I was delighted, and there really was a great spirit in the meeting.

    The lessons in the rest of the block were the regularly scheduled lessons, though in RS we sang Easter-ish hymns and our music moment (a few minutes of something music-related) was Easter-related [though I'm in charge of the RS music stuff, so I ensured that part, at least, would be seasonally appropriate ;-)].

  25. Nate Oman on April 13, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    “And if it’s not, or is marginally so, what does that say about how much we really care about or understand the events of Easter week?”

    I suspect that the answer to this question is less than one would expect given the rhetorica context in which the question was asked. I don’t think that Puritan detachment from the liturical calender is good evidence that Puritans devalued Christ’s resurrection. Craig, I wonder to what extent your crie de couer (sp?) on this reflects having spent a lot of time with Catholic sources ;->?

  26. Craig H. on April 13, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    No doubt about it Nate. But I guess I’ve found the Catholic approach (and widely Christian approach) to Easter and the entire liturgical calendar more spiritually satisfying than the low-church approach… Maybe people simply have different needs this way.

  27. Nate Oman on April 13, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Craig H: Fair enough. Frankly, in many ways I would prefer a more high-church style of worship. I am suspicious, however, of your implied claim that the low-church sensibility evidences a kind of diminished care for and understanding of the events of surrounding Easter. Obviously, the claim that there is a real spiritual as opposed to aesthetic distinction in styles cannot be dismissed as clearly mistaken. It seems to me, however, that before one rejects low church worship as heedless and spiritually barrent philistinism, one must cope with the anti-Catholic critique, namely that the emphasis on ceremony, liturgy, and calender distracts one from a more pious, authentic, simple, humble, and therefore truely Christian form of worship.

    There is do doubt but that the Counter-Reformation provided an awesome spiritual spectacle, and I enjoy the art, music, and liturgy that it produced. I just have an equally soft spot for Puritans…

  28. Craig H. on April 13, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    I’m not necessarily saying I love high-church worship. I’m thinking more simply of the observance of the Christian calendar. If that in itself is high-church, then I suppose I’m guilty, but that’s all I mean. The style of worship can be simple as a Shaker chair, as far as I’m concerned. I think my concern is this: if Easter doesn’t matter to a person, then how much can the events of Easter matter to a person’s life? Maybe they can. Maybe you can be completely ignorant of the events and live in a good Christian way. But some of us need reminders, I suppose.

  29. Nate Oman on April 13, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    “If Easter doesn’t matter to a person, then how much can the events of Easter matter to a person’s life? Maybe they can.”

    I suppose that I am just not convinced that observance of Easter holidays is strongly correlated with anyone’s subjective devotion to Christ or appreciation of his resurrection. For example, I am far from convinced that my to-church-twice-a-year-on-Easter-and-Christmas neighbors have a deeper understanding and respect for the Savior’s sacrifice and resurrection than does the bishop in your old ward who thoughtlessly had people speak on food storage at Easter time.

  30. Craig H. on April 13, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    I completely agree that simply observing a holiday doesn’t necessarily say anything about one’s spiritual state. But that doesn’t mean a holiday isn’t worth observing, or that going ga-ga over Christmas and Thanksgiving and yawning over Easter may not mean something. Even if I don’t know what it is!

  31. Nate Oman on April 13, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Ah shucks! You gave up too easily! I was hoping that you would stick to your Catholic guns and give me a full throated defense of liturgy.

  32. Hunter on April 13, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I agree, Craig H (“going ga-ga over Christmas and Thanksgiving, and yawning over Easter [might mean] something). Nate’s last comment got me thinking: If his unchurched friends were going to pick only two times a year to go to church, isn’t it most appropriate to include Easter as one of those two?

  33. namakemono on April 13, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    re #23 “I’d bet that Thanksgiving and Pioneer Day are probably more important to Mormons”
    -which Mormons? No Pioneer Day or Thanksgiving here in Japan (however, if enthusiastic American members here want to put on a Thanksgiving feast, we are more than happy to help out and to take part lol)

  34. Craig H. on April 13, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Sorry namakemono, you’re exactly right. I was thinking more of the American experience, in the usual predictable tiresome American way! I wonder what non-American Mormons think of Easter–those who live in a largely Christian context, or converted from one, or those who live in a largely non-Christian context, or converted from one.

  35. LRC on April 13, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    As long as there are people who only attend church twice a year (Christmas and Easter), wouldn’t it make sense to provide them with the core messages of The Gospel – that Christ was born, lived, atoned, died and rose again – on the two days that those folks are here?

    If a “lost sheep” needs to hear a gospel message, is it better to have that message come in the form of a talk on food storage or a talk on the Bread of Life?

    Sure, it would be great to get them to church every week so they can learn what it’s like to have a regular reminder of what it means to “always remember Him”.

    It looks like Easter 2010 is April 4th. That probably makes Easter and General Conference on the same weekend.

  36. jks on April 13, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    Since Easter is on General Conference weekend half the time, it is more difficult to have Easter traditions.
    Our Easter sac. mtg. was very Easter themed. Talks about Jesus Christ & atonement, mulitple choir numbers, and hymns chosen by me, about Easter, of course.

  37. Craig H. on April 13, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Can you imagine General Conference on Christmas? And of course a good number of talks are on Easter when GC does fall on Easter, but would you say that for most people the Easter part is secondary to the Conference part, or vice versa?

  38. Rosalynde Welch on April 14, 2009 at 9:14 am

    I attended the regional stake conference broadcast from SLC at our stake center here in St Louis. In all honesty, these broadcasts don’t usually do much for me, and this time was no exception. There was a fine talk by Sister Lifferth, from the Primary general presidency, plus an informal address by Elder Oaks and a talk by President Monson. (Interestingly, President Monson’s was clearly written and read from a teleprompter, whereas Elder Oaks’ was improvisatory and extemporaneous. At the last of these broadcasts, President Monson spoke extemporaneously and wandered quite a bit, and quite a bit overtime.)

    Elder Oaks briefly but specifically addressed the subject of the exchange between Nate and Craig above: our lack of formal liturgy, and specifically our lack of special Easter observances. He made a standard anti-Popery argument (though he didn’t identify it as such): we celebrate the atonement and resurrection every week in the sacrament ordinance, and that the living fulfillment of sacramental covenants is a more meaningful and continuous celebration of Easter than a once-a-year extravaganza. Of course he neglected to acknowledge that since this was a stake conference, his audience WOULDN’T be receiving the sacrament on this particular week!

    We had a Saturday night session of the conference, as well, programmed around live, local speakers. The theme was missionary work, and at first I was disappointed as Craig was at his food storage Easter. Each of the speakers attempted to related missionary work to Easter and the atonement, though, and however tortured the effort I found it meaningful and touching, in a Terryl Givens sacred-and-banal kind of way (not that missionary work is banal). There’s something distinctively Mormon in that effort to make the practical details of life relate to the sublime pinnacles of holiness.

  39. ESO on April 14, 2009 at 10:03 am

    I am surprised someone programmed Stake Conference for Easter! Bad planning. That hasn’t happened in my region that I am aware of.

    I agree about the broadcasted stake conferences, Rosalynde–they do nothing for me. Neither local nor general–I have no idea why they bother to do it live. I hate the initial attempts each speaker makes to connect with the region: “my grandpa went to school in Kansas City” and “I once rode a train that stopped in Cleaveland” just sounds silly. We know: you were born in UT, you live in UT, you will die in Ut. Your grandbabies may live in this region, but all we really want to hear from you is some inspiration to chew on to get us through this next week.

  40. Craig H. on April 14, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Thanks Rosalynde and ESO. I understand the sentiment of not exaggerating a celebration (the once-a-year extravaganza) but that kind of poses a false choice: as if you celebrate big once a year or you ignore it. It’s kind of like saying better to treat a person well every day than to have a big birthday party once a year, which is true; but that’s not really the choice. A nice party can reinforce the everyday value you feel for that person. The same with Easter, or Christmas (and I can’t remember hearing any apologies for Christmas programs, only for a lukewarm attitude toward Easter.) I’m looking for regular, predictable, heart-felt observance, not smoke and majesty. Holding a conference on Easter because it just happens to be the Sunday the conference falls on makes Easter secondary right away; again, has anyone ever had a stake conference on Christmas?

  41. bbell on April 14, 2009 at 10:40 am

    RW,

    Its been a while. Welcome back.

  42. Hunter on April 14, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Good point, Craig H. (the birthday analogy). Besides, we are temporal beings, and temporal reminders even of spiritual things can be a good thing. Bring on the (dignified) pomp!

    I’ll be very curious to see what happens next year for General Conference. I bet that the MTC joyously sings “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and etc., etc. In other words, I trust that the powers that be will make it a big deal, yes, but the better thing, in my opinion, would be to move GC to the week before or after Easter. Let us go to Church, and take the sacrament on Easter.

  43. Rosalynde Welch on April 14, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Thanks, bbell!

    ESO, I agree that the attempts to make local connections are often tortured. I do understand the motive behind them, but I’m not sure that they’re actually successful.

    Craig, I suspect that Elder Oaks’ rationale is mostly a post hoc apology for an inherited institutional quirk. On the other hand, the same could probably be said for much of the theology of any religious tradition!

  44. greenfrog on April 14, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    My ward showed the questionable judgment of turning most of Sunday’s sacrament meeting (post-sacrament, that is) over to me and the ward choir (readings from Luke and John interspersed with songs from the choir and a couple together with the congregation). The meeting wound up with a brief sermon from one of the bishopric on the connections between US-traditional Easter symbols and the resurrection of Christ.

    good fun — and relatively liturgical.

  45. Craig H. on April 14, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Very interesting greenfrog. At lunch, with 15-20 other Mormons, I informally surveyed their Easter services. About half had a full program of talks and music, some had a little of each or hints of Easter, some had “not a word about Easter.”