Relief Society Lesson 36: Receiving the Ordinances and Blessings of the Temple
We talk a lot in the Church about the blessings of the temple and all the peace, beauty, knowledge, truth, etc. that participating in temple ordinances can bring. Unfortunately, I think we too often stay at this surface level of discourse because we don’t really know how to talk about the temple. This is a difficult lesson to teach precisely because it is hard to get deep and meaningful discussion about the temple and our relationship to it. As a teacher, you must be aware of some class member’s discomfort in talking about something they might consider too sacred to talk about. You also need to be sensitive to the fact that everybody has a very different and deeply personal relationship to the temple. Many members of your class will see the temple of a place of peace and comfort but you might also have sisters who have experienced very real pain and confusion in the temple. This is not something to be afraid of or run away from, if anything I would highlight the beauty in our individual response to the divine.
We often talk in generalities in the Church and we don’t delve into the individual experience. If I was teaching this lesson, I would strive to stay away from our usual rhetoric about the temple and instead focus on our individual relationship with this sacred place. Because this is a Relief Society lesson, I would highlight in particular Mormon women’s history with and relationship to the temple.
The Saints are commanded by God to build temples.
Joseph Smith taught from the earliest days of the Restoration, the importance of building temples.
In January 1833 in Kirtland, Ohio, the Prophet wrote: “The Lord commanded us, in Kirtland, to build a house of God;…this is the word of the Lord to us, and we must, yea, the Lord helping us, we will obey; as on conditions of our obedience He has promised us great things; yea, even a visit from the heavens to honor us with His own presence. We greatly fear before the Lord lest we should fail of this great honor, which our Master proposes to confer on us; we are seeking for humility and great faith lest we be ashamed in His presence.”
The building of the Kirtland Temple was met with great excitement among the members of the newly formed church. The sisters of the Church were especially excited ans sacrificed greatly for it. They sold off their jewelry to help in the construction, they donated upholstery, cooked meals and mended clothing. Most famously, many of the early Mormon sisters donated their finest china to be crushed and put on the outer walls so that the temple would gleam from a distance.
The saints left Kirtland soon after the temple was built and relocated to Missouri. A site for a temple was dedicated in Independence, Missouri but had to be abandoned. When the Church migrated to Nauvoo, once again they started building another House of the Lord.
In September 1840, the Prophet and his counselors in the First Presidency declared that the time had come to build the Nauvoo Temple: “Believing the time has now come, when it is necessary to erect a house of prayer, a house of order, a house for the worship of our God, where the ordinances can be attended to agreeable to His divine will, in this region of the country–to accomplish which, considerable exertion must be made, and means will be required–and as the work must be hastened in righteousness, it behooves the Saints to weigh the importance of these things, in their minds, in all their bearings, and then take such steps as are necessary to carry them into operation; and arming themselves with courage, resolve to do all they can, and feel themselves as much interested as though the whole labor depended on themselves alone. By so doing the will emulate the glorious deeds of the fathers, and secure the blessings of heaven upon themselves and their posterity to the latest generation.”
Mormon women took the Prophet very literally at his word and threw all their effort and ingenuity into the building of the Nauvoo Temple. Mercy Fielding Thompson received inspiration to have the sisters subscribe one cent per week for the purpose of buying glass and nails for the temple. She was able to collect nearly $1000 from the sisters in Illinois and England. Another interesting contribution from Sarah Kimball provides a great example of the ingenuity of women.
Three days after the birth of her son, Sarah Kimball asked her well-to-do, non-Mormon husband what he thought the son was worth. Her husband had a difficult time assigning a price tag to their new son, so Sarah suggested $1000. Hiram Kimball agreed to the sum. Then Sarah asked “And half of him is mine”. He agreed again. Sarah then said, “Then I have something to help on the Temple…and I think of turning my share right in as tithing.” Some days later, Hiram related the conversation to Joseph Smith. “I accept all such donations,” Joseph promptly answered, “and from this day the boy shall stand recorded, Church property.” Then he added, “You now have the privilege of paying $500 and retaining possession, or receiving $500 and giving possession.” Hiram Kimball readily deeded to Joseph a piece of property well worth the $500, thereby gaining title to his child and closing the transaction.
- Why was the temple so important to the early sisters of the Church?
In April 1842, the Prophet said: “The Church is not fully organized, in its proper order, and cannot be, until the Temple is completed, where places will be provided for the administration of the ordinances of the Priesthood.”
In the temple we learn the things of eternity and receive ordinances of salvation for ourselves and our ancestors.
The Victorian Era, in which time the church was formed, was particularly oppressive for women. The promise of the temple gave women of the church the opportunity for equal spiritual participation. The temple ordinances are applicable to both men and women and promise the same level of exaltation, this was incredibly significant to women of the time. Joseph Smith gave women the keys of the kingdom and promised women in 1842 that they would receive “knowledge and intelligence.” When Mercy Fielding Thompson received her endowments later that year, Joseph Smith told her that “this will bring you out of darkness into marvelous light.”
- What are some of the things we learn in the temple? What is the “marvelous light”?
- What are some of the great blessings that come from temple ordinances?
- Why are temple ordinances necessary?
“The question is frequently asked, ‘Can we not be saved without going through with all those ordinances, etc.?’ I would answer, No, not the fullness of salvation.”
Joseph Smith said, “If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God, he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord…All men who become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ will have to receive the fullness of the ordinances of his kingdom.”
- Does this apply to women, also?
(I would expect class members to say yes because ordinances are necessary for everyone. For example, Christ said that all must be baptized, so it would make sense that all must have the ordinances of the temple done for them as well.)
- How do we know that women will enjoy the same blessings as men?
(I would expect answers like both men and women officiate in ordinances, both men and women are promised the same level exaltation. You might also turn to D&C 132:20 to answer this question.)
These quotes might also be helpful:
“They [Mormon women] occupy a more important position than is occupied by any other women on earth…sharing in the gifts and powers of the holy Priesthood…participating in those sacred ordinances, without which, we could never be prepared to dwell in the presence of the Holy Ones.” ~Eliza R. Snow
“Woman [shall] be recompensed in rich measure for all the injustice that womanhood has endured in mortality. Then shall woman reign by Divine right, a queen in the resplendent realm of her glorified state.” ~James E. Talmage
If you have time, you could read part of Joseph Smith’s dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple. I like this prayer because it is inclusive of both women and men, recognizing that we all have access to knowledge and revelation and that we are all servants to God.
“And now, holy Father, we ask…that thy glory may rest down upon thy people, and upon this thy house, which we now dedicate to thee, that it may be sanctified and consecrated to be holy, and that thy holy presence may be continually in this house; and that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of the Lord’s house may feel thy power, and feel constrained to acknowledge that thou has sanctified it, and that it is thy house, a place of thy holiness.
“And do thou grant, Holy Father, that all those who shall worship in this house may be taught words of wisdom out of the best books, and that they may seek learning even by study, and also by faith, as thou hast said; and that they may grow up in thee, and receive a fullness of the Holy Ghost, and be organized according to thy laws, and be prepared to obtain every needful thing; and that this house may be a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of glory and of God, even thy house…
“And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them; and from this place they may bear exceedingly great and glorious tidings, in truth unto the ends of the earth, that they may know that this is thy work, and that thous hast put forth thy hand, to fulfill that which thou hast spoken by the mouths of the prophets, concerning the last days.”
You might consider ending the lesson by sharing your experience with the temple and your testimony of its importance.
“Mormon Women and the Temple”by Carol Cornwall Madsen. This article provides a much more in depth look at Mormon women’s historical relationship with the temple, what it meant to early sisters and what it can mean to us today.
If you are nervous about giving a lesson about the temple and are unsure of how to present it, here is a sacrament talk I gave on the topic. Since giving this talk I have had further questions about the temple but I think it provides an example of a faithful way to discuss the temple in a church setting.
You might also want to look through the Temple Study blog. They have lots of interesting posts on many different aspects of the temple that might be helpful when you are preparing this lesson.