Relief Society Lesson 8: We Look to Christ

A 10th century ivory plaque depicting three holy women intent on anointing the body of Jesus approach his burial place, the Holy Sepulchre, seen here as a two story cylindrical building. A man “robed in white,” and endowed here with wings, informs them that Jesus has risen from the dead. The Roman soldiers are asleep at their posts, completely unaware of the miracle of the Resurrection that has taken place.

If all goes according to plan, this lesson should be taught on Easter Sunday – hooray!  The lesson really focuses on what it means to us as Latter-day Saints to worship Christ.  The manual opens with an anecdote from President Hinckley’s life, where he is answering questions after the Mesa, Arizona temple open house.  A protestant minister asks him, “I’ve been all through this building, this temple which carries on its face the name of Jesus Christ, but nowhere have I seen any representation of the cross, the symbol of Christianity. I have noted your buildings elsewhere and likewise find an absence of the cross. Why is this when you say you believe in Jesus Christ?”  President Hinckley responds that while he wishes to show no ill will towards the cross nor towards the denominations who use it in their worship and liturgy, that he believes the cross to be the symbol of the dying cross, and “our message is a declaration of the living Christ.”  He then continues to say that “the lives of our people must become the only meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.”

What does it mean to have our lives be a ‘meaningful expression of our faith’ in Jesus Christ?  President Hinckley alludes to Matthew 25, verses 40 & 45, which declare that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” and “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”  Therefore, our lives should be patterned after the life of the Savior – we should be treating others as the Savior treated them.

In order to pattern our lives after the Savior, we need to know about his life!  The manual gives several wonderful examples of how he lived.  It begins with an outline of his life, drawn from the scriptures.  It’s too lengthy to excerpt here, but one part is especially appropriate to discuss in Relief Society.  From the manual, under the subheading “Arrest, Crucifixion, and Death:”

The earth shook as His spirit passed. The centurion who had seen it all declared in solemnity, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matt. 27:54).

Those who loved Him took His body from the cross. They dressed it and placed it in a new tomb. …

His friends must have wept. The Apostles He loved and whom He had called as witnesses of His divinity wept. The women who loved Him wept. None had understood what He had said about rising the third day. How could they understand? This had never happened before. It was totally unprecedented. It was unbelievable, even for them.

There must have been a terrible sense of dejection and hopelessness and misery as they thought of their Lord taken from them in death.

But that was not the end. On the morning of the third day, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary returned to the tomb. To their utter amazement, the stone was rolled away and the tomb was open. They peered inside. Two beings in white sat at either end of the burial site. An angel appeared to them and said, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?

“He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,

“Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again” (Luke 24:5–7).

These simple words—“He is not here, but is risen”—have become the most profound in all literature. They are the declaration of the empty tomb. They are the fulfillment of all He had spoken concerning rising again. They are the triumphant response to the query facing every man, woman, and child who was ever born to earth.

The risen Lord spoke to Mary, and she replied. He was not an apparition. This was not imagination. He was real, as real as He had been in mortal life. He did not permit her to touch Him. He had not yet ascended to His Father in Heaven. That would happen shortly. What a reunion it must have been, to be embraced by the Father, who loved Him and who also must have wept for Him during His hours of agony.

Women played a critical part in Jesus’ final days in mortality, and were the first to witness the resurrected Lord. In John 12:1-8, we read that Martha prepared Jesus a meal while Mary washed and anointed Jesus’ feet.  In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, a woman anoints Jesus with oil in preparation for burial (and is scoffed at by Christ’s disciples for using expensive oil, and then defended by Christ for doing “a beautiful thing”).  And while the four gospels are not unanimous in their telling of many of the events in Christ’s life, one thing they all agree on is that when Christ was risen, He appeared to Mary Magdalene (and, in some accounts, other women as well) (Matthew 28:1-9 , Mark 16:9, Luke 24:1-10, John 20:1-18).

There are many accounts of women interacting with Christ in the New Testament.  In the story of Mary & Martha receiving Jesus at their home, we read of women not only serving Christ, but learning at his feet as men did in that time.  In the story of the woman with the issue of blood, we read that women sought Jesus to be healed.  In the stories of the woman who was “bowed together” and the Widow of Nain, we read that Jesus healed even those who didn’t directly seek him.  In the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, we read that Jesus discussed theology directly with women, breaking many cultural and religious customs of the day (read Lynnette’s brilliant thoughts on this story here).

How do Christ’s interactions with women inform our living testimonies of Him?  I would argue that several key points can be drawn from these scriptural stories:

  • Women participate in washing, anointing, and other ordinances (much like we do in temples today).
  • Women witness of Christ, and hold to their convictions even when doubted by others (including church leaders, as the disciples doubted Mary Magdalene’s witness of the Risen Christ until they were able to see Him for themselves).
  • Women serve.
  • Women learn at Christ’s feet.
  • Women seek to be healed by Him.
  • Women accept the gift of the Atonement and of Christ’s grace (even when feeling unworthy or when not directly seeking it).
  • Women engage in theology and see themselves as full participants in Christ’s kingdom.

To sum this up from President Hinckley,

What shall we do with Jesus who is called Christ? Learn of him. Search the scriptures for they are they which testify of him. Ponder the miracle of his life and mission. Try a little more diligently to follow his example and observe his teachings.

President Hinckley also asks us to consider whether we really believe in Christ.  Do we believe that He was born of Mary, died on a cross, and rose again on the third day?  Do we believe that his Atonement and grace are free to all?  Do we seek Him, learn of Him, and try to emulate Him?  Do we try to cultivate our own personal, meaningful relationship with Christ?

To quote Chieko Okazaki in chapter 6 of her book “Aloha!“:

Each one of us needs a firsthand relationship with the Savior — a primary relationship, not a secondary one. The testimonies that others have of Jesus are powerful and strengthening, but if we rely on them instead of developing our own relationship, we will be spiritually weak. The manuals and the Ensign and other commentaries and sermons and essays are meaningful and perceptive; but if we read only them and don’t study the scriptures for ourselves, we will have only a secondhand relationship with the scriptures. The prayers of others can be uplifting and spiritual, but if we don’t pray our own prayers, we will be distant from the Savior.

Let’s follow the Savior in establishing a firsthand relationship with our Father in Heaven, a relationship so strong that it will fill our hearts so that we can, without confusion, follow him by following our hearts. “Draw near unto me,” the Lord says, “and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me.” (D&C 88:63) I know this promise is true because he has drawn near to me and guided me as I have diligently sought his companionship.

I would close with a testimony of Christ. It might be appropriate to include Chieko Okazaki’s words here, from her book “Lighten Up“:

My dear sisters, the gospel is the good news that can free us from guilt. We know that Jesus experienced the totality of
mortal existence in Gethsemane. It’s our faith that he experienced everything—absolutely everything…That means he knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer — how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism. Let me go further: there is nothing you have experienced as a woman that he does not also know and recognize. On a profound level, he understands about the hunger to hold your baby that sustains you through pregnancy. He understands both the physical pain of giving birth and the immense joy. He knows about PMS and cramps and menopause. He understands about rape and infertility and abortion. His last recorded words to his disciples were, “And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)

What does that mean? It means he understands your mother-pain when your five year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth-grader, when your daughter calls to say that the new baby has Down’s Syndrome.  He knows your mother-rage when a trusted babysitter sexually abuses your two year-old, when someone gives your thirteen year-old drugs, when someone seduces your seventeen year-old.  He knows the pain you live with when you come home to a quiet apartment where the only children who ever come are visitors, when you hear that your former husband and his new wife were sealed in the temple last week, when your fiftieth wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years.  He knows all that.  He’s been there.  He’s been lower than all that. …

He’s not waiting for us to be perfect.  Perfect people don’t need a Savior.  He came to save us in our imperfections.  He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes.  He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked.  He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief.

Liz

Liz is a reader, writer, wife, mother, gardener, social worker, story collector, cookie-maker, and hug-giver.

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