To Be a Witness
Easter has always been my favorite religious holiday. I relish the messages of re-birth, renewal, and hope that Easter brings. I love the reminder that my redeemer lives. “What comfort this sweet sentence gives!” [Hymn #136]. Jesus may have suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and died on the cross for my sins, but his resurrection demonstrates that through his Grace I can be forgiven and also live again.
In preparation for Easter this year I am observing Lent. For the past few years of observing Lent I have given up a habit that is very difficult for me; but, I’ve also taken the opportunity to read the four Gospels during these 46 days. Over the last few years I have connected with the verse in John 20:16 that testifies of Mary Magdalene as the first to witness the resurrected Christ.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). (NIV)
This verse never stood out to me until the first time I observed Lent. That year I was asked to give a talk in Sacrament meeting on Easter. It’s no surprise to any Latter-day Saint that Easter is not often a celebrated and special holiday in the church. I’ve attended many services on Easter where Easter was never mentioned. In fact, when I was asked to speak that Sunday, I was given the topic of self-reliance. Being the rebel I was, I decided I was going to speak about Easter so that I could testify of a living Christ. I wanted to be a witness of Him. (I found being given the topic of self-reliance ironic considering Easter is all about Grace.)
Mormons do not worship the cross. We are not interested in the crucifixion of Christ because we believe he paid for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane. Because Jesus began to fulfill his mission in the Garden and then completed it when he was resurrected, you would think that Easter would be given much more emphasis in our church meetings. There are only three hymns in our hymnal dedicated specifically to Easter. To the larger Christian world, Easter is the most important Christian holiday and one that is given much outward displays of ritual and celebration. Easter is the heart of Christianity. Without Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the entire doctrine of Christianity fails. Jesus has risen! This is the “good news” of the Gospel.
With how important Easter is, I have to wonder why it’s merely a blip for Mormons. There is no observation of Lent. There is no Holy week celebrations. There is no Good Friday services. In most wards, there is barely a mention of the sacredness of this day most Easters. A Bishop and Ward Chorister really have to go out of their way to create a significant Easter program for sacrament meeting.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus’ apostle were not whom he chose to be the first to witness his resurrected body? Many accounts list “the other Mary” or “the Mother of James” and Joanna as two additional witnesses. The Jewish Law of Moses required at least two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6), a practice that is still in place to witness any saving ordinances for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I have to wonder why Easter is not more significant to Mormons. Is it because we focus more on obedience and works than Grace? Or is it because it was a woman, or three women, who witnessed the resurrected Christ, and not his apostles, that it fails to be more significant to us? Women are never allowed to be witnesses of sacred ordinances in the LDS church. As a mother, I was not allowed to be a witness for my children’s baptism. Blessing an infant isn’t even a saving ordinance, and I was not allowed to be a part of it. Women cannot be a witness to baptisms for the dead or sealings inside the temple, our most sacred place, the Holiest of the Holies. If we embrace and observe Easter and speak about whom Christ chose to be his first witness(es) after his resurrection, will we have to reconcile our doctrine, which keeps women out of performing the duties of a witness?
If Mary Magdalene was holy enough, worthy enough, in a time and place where the status of women was lower than cattle, to be the first person to witness the resurrected Christ, why can’t I be a witness to sacred and saving ordinances? How am I different than Mary Magdalene? Does Christ see the women of the LDS church as fundamentally lacking in honesty and integrity to be a witness to the ordinances that will bring the children of our Heavenly Father back to him for exaltation? And if that were true, why would Jesus choose to make three women a witness to the most important event in Christianity and human history?
This year while I sit in Easter worship services, I’m going to think about and honor those three special women Jesus chose to be the first witnesses to the Resurrected Christ, and know that I can be a witness for Him as well.