My husband and I were asked to speak in our ward’s sacrament meeting for Easter Sunday. If you aren’t familiar with our church that meant that we were in charge of giving the Easter sermon for our congregation – a pretty daunting task! I thought I would share the transcript of my talk here. If you have followed my blog for awhile and/or follow me on Facebook a lot of what is here will likely seem familiar – I combined the content from several past posts to get the base of the talk and then added and changed things from there. If you would like to see Eric’s talk he posted it here – it was fantastic and absolutely worth your time to go and read.
In our family it is a running joke that I cannot get through a single episode of the Chosen without dissolving into tears. Part of the joke though is that I pretend with my kids that it’s not the Chosen that makes me cry (although it totally is, it’s my favorite show and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s completely free to watch through their app. The first couple episodes are a little slow but it’s worth sticking through them). I’ll play it off like, “oh no, I wasn’t crying, I think there are just a lot of allergens in this show. Man, why are you guys chopping ALL the onions in the theater room?” While I joke about it, the truth is that there is nothing that pierces my heart like the love of our Savior, which is portrayed powerfully and relatably in that show. I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous about giving this talk because with it being Easter Sunday the love of our Savior is exactly what I’ll be talking about. I’m not sure I can do this without ugly crying. If anyone wants to pray that I can share my message without being a sobbing mess, I would appreciate it.
A few years ago I heard a bishop tell a story from when he was a young father. It was getting close to Easter and he and his wife had decided to read through the New Testament about the days leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion with their children. On Good Friday his wife had to work and he was trying to wrangle the kids while reading. The reading had been chaos and he didn’t think anyone had been paying attention (I’m sure scripture study never goes like this in anyone else’s household). As he was getting to the part about the crucifixion he looked up and saw his 5 year old daughter crying. Assuming her brother had hit her, the father asked what was wrong. She surprised him by responding, “Daddy, why did they kill Jesus?” The father paused for a moment trying to come up with an answer that a young child would understand. He thought about the political situation in Jerusalem at the time. He considered the Pharisees and the Romans, the different power struggles, the controversial teachings Jesus had shared. Not being able to come up with an on level answer for a child he asked his daughter, “What do you think?” After a moment she responded, “They must not have known how much He loved them.”
This story is personal for me because the bishop of that ward was my dad and the little girl was me. The question is one I have pondered for more years than I realized. How could anyone kill our Savior? I struggle to understand how people could treat ANYONE the way that Christ was treated, let alone our Savior. Only hours before He had suffered for every pain, sin and sorrow that they would endure in their lives. Still they took Him, beat Him and nailed Him to a cross. Truly, they must not have known how much He loved them.
Despite their incredible ignorance of who He was, as they gathered around to mock Him, flog Him and kill Him Christ’s response was, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Not only did he forgive the very people who were killing Him, but He forgave them while they were in the very act of taking His life. He didn’t wait for them to realize what they’d done wrong, or feel any remorse, or even stop doing it. They had beaten and humiliated Him, cast lots on His clothes and nailed Him to a cross, and while they were yet reviling Him and watching Him suffer and die – He forgave them.
Last month my 8-year-old daughter was baptized. As we were getting ready I remembered my own baptism day. My 8 year old self thought, “Ok, you’re all clean so it’s easy now, just don’t sin and you’ve made it!” I’m sure you will be shocked to know that… I didn’t manage to do that… not even close. I can’t remember what particular thing I did that made me feel like I’d blown it but I do know that it happened and much sooner than I would have ever hoped. I remember feeling so disappointed that I’d had a perfectly clean slate and I’d messed it up.
As I was remembering that experience I remembered a storyline from The Chosen. (I told you I love the show, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it came up) In the first few episodes we meet Mary Magdalene who is possessed by an evil spirit. Jesus cures her, forgives her and she joins his followers. Throughout the following episodes Mary is THE model follower of Christ. She tells someone who is surprised to see her change that, “I was one way, and now I am completely different, and the thing that happened in between was Him.” She testifies, she brings others to Christ, she is always helpful – truly the kind of follower we would all wish to be. Until one day she is triggered by some remembrances of her past. In a moment of weakness she leaves Christ’s disciples and returns to her previous ways – discarding everything she knows. The disciples search for her, find her in a really low place and drag her back to Jesus.
When she returns she doesn’t even want to face Christ, but she is given a moment to talk with Him. She says “I’m so ashamed. You redeemed me and I just threw it all away. away.” I think this reflects so perfectly how we all feel when we can see that we’ve done things that we knew better than to do. We feel so guilty to have given up what we KNEW was right. He replies, “It’s not much of a redemption if it can be lost in a day, is it?” Mary responds, “I owe You everything, but I just don’t think I can do it.” He tells her, “I just want your heart. The Father just wants your heart. Give Us that, which you already have, and the rest will come in time. Did you really think you’d never struggle or sin again?” After more dialogue back and forth with Mary beating herself up and the Savior soothing her He says, “I forgive you. It’s over.”
I think what I most appreciated about this scene was that Jesus doesn’t roll his eyes saying, “Yup, you really messed up huh? Alright, I guess I’ll forgive you this one time, but you’re really pushing your luck. Don’t you remember, we already went through this once? How do I know you really mean it this time? You better not mess up again.” Instead what he says is, “Did you really think you’d never struggle or sin again?” His forgiveness was not conditional on her never slipping up. Jesus wasn’t even surprised that Mary didn’t overcome everything in an instant.
In the Women’s session of this last General Conference Elder Renlund shared, “Even after sincere repentance, however, we may stumble. Stumbling does not mean that the repentance was inadequate but may simply reflect human weakness.” He then shared this statement from Elder Scott, “The joyful news for anyone who desires to be rid of the consequences of past poor choices is that the Lord sees weaknesses differently than He does rebellion. […] when the Lord speaks of weaknesses, it is always with mercy.”
I think often we expect once we repent we are now miraculously going to be perfect from here on out. In the show Christ points out how unrealistic this is. He KNOWS we’re going to mess things up – in fact He is expecting us to mess up. I’m going to go so far as to say that if we’re not messing things up we probably aren’t learning and growing in which case we’re defeating the purpose of our lives here.
Two weeks ago Elder Ochoa shared – “Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness has another name—the plan of redemption. The plan was not for us to glide easily through life, never stumbling, never sinking, with a smile always on our face. Heavenly Father knew that we would need to be redeemed. This is why He prepared the plan of redemption. This is why He sent a Redeemer. When we struggle—for any reason—that does not mean the plan isn’t working. That is when we need the plan the most!”
If you’ve done much study on the topic of growth mindset this makes sense – we can only grow when we are allowed a safe space in which to make mistakes. Through His Atonement Jesus has given us that safe space. That’s what this earth life is for. Christ tells us, “I’ve got this. You keep trying, and go ahead, mess it up a bit. I’ve already got you covered. All I ask is that you don’t give up. We’re going to get you to perfection TOGETHER.”
We get a chance to renew our covenants each week when we take the sacrament – but the Atonement has already covered our mistakes before we even make them. Of course that means we still need to try to do right and make amends when we do wrong – but in the eyes of our Heavenly Father we don’t have to wait to “measure up” again – He loves us in the middle of the messes we make. We need to stop beating ourselves up and accept Him telling us, “I forgive you. It’s over.” Even when we slip up, even when we go back and do the very thing that we’ve said we wouldn’t allow ourselves to do again – we are not past forgiveness just because we didn’t overcome in an instant. The author Lisa Bevere tweeted, “If you think you’ve blown God’s plan for your life, rest in this: YOU, my beautiful friend, are not that powerful.” So what should we do when we slip up? Elder Holland put it beautifully when he said, “Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead. Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”
Do you believe in those good things to come? Do you believe that Christ’s atonement can work – even for you? Will you let it? Do YOU realize how much your Savior loves you? I wonder, if more people understood the love of their Savior would we have the violence and hatred and wars that plague our world today? We read in 4 Nephi about the people who live in absolute peace for 300 years. While usually I feel disheartened that this peace lasts for less than a single page of the over 500 page book, do you realize that the period of time it describes is about a quarter of the time period of the whole record? Could it be that once the people had met Christ and understood fully how He loved them that nothing else was as important? If you can understand how much your Savior loves YOU, it will change your life.
I want to bear my testimony, that I know that our Savior loves each of us, deeply, and personally. His greatest desire is for our happiness and we can achieve that happiness by following the gospel He preached. Please, if you haven’t felt the love of our Savior pray to feel it. Ask for the opportunity to catch a glimpse of that love and hold on to it tightly.
I know that through Christ’s Atonement we won’t be chained to our mistakes forever – when we turn to Him and He forgives us, it’s over. Please don’t waste His gift by holding onto a grudge against yourself. Accept His forgiveness and let it propel you to do better and be better. I am forever grateful for this knowledge and love our Savior. I share this message, and Christ’s love for each and every one of you in His name, Jesus Christ, Amen.