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Victory has been won

Published: Saturday, March 22, 2008

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In one bitter winter in Nauvoo, Ill., in the early 1840s, a toll of illness depleted those in the community who could help. Exhausted and ill, Elizabeth Terry and her newborn daughter, Rachel, were alone in their open, unfinished home. Sister Terry remembered in her journal:

"I tended her till 4 o'clock, then I fell asleep. When I awoke at 6 o'clock, she was dead. I trembled so that I could hardly stand. But I wrapped her in a blanket and took her to Father's to see if she was really dead." The baby Rachel had died of exposure, and like so many, Sister Terry carried the aching of a mother's love the rest of her life.

President Thomas S. Monson said of this: "At some period in our mortal mission, there appears the faltering step, the wan smile, the pain of sickness — even the fading of summer, the approach of autumn, the chill of winter, and the experience we call death."

"Every thoughtful person has asked himself the question best phrased by Job of old: 'If a man die, shall he live again?' (Job 14:14). Try as we may to put the question out of our thoughts, it always returns. Death comes to all mankind. It comes to the aged as they walk on faltering feet. Its summons is heard by those who have scarcely reached midway in life's journey, and often it hushes the laughter of little children," he said in the April 2007 general conference. (Ensign, May 2007).

While death is an essential part of mortality, it is also its great test. Charles Dickens described "the blank that follows death — the weary void — the sense of desolation that will come upon the strongest minds, when something familiar and beloved is missed at every turn — the connection between inanimate and senseless things, and the object of recollection, when every household (item) becomes a (headstone) and every room a grave." (The Old Curiosity Shop, chapter 72).

Yet, mortality is necessarily filled with tests and choices, consequences and pain. In the Council in Heaven, before were "laid the foundations of the earth," the way was made for the spirit children of Heavenly Father to progress through mortality. But two obstacles were faced: physical death and spiritual death, the latter being "the consequences of sin."

Eventually all must die. Likewise "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3: 23).

Had it been left to us mortals to overcome these two deaths, what would we propose? How would we "escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit"? (2 Nephi 9:10).

We couldn't. After all the talk, the schemes, wild plans, dreaming and hoping; after committees, commissions, inquiries, all kinds of weighings and balancings, even leveraging of universes and measuring of atomic forces, we must fall short.

Yet, even in our most desperate moments, we scarce could recommend such a solution as was offered. It waited for the One who created the universe to step forward. He offered Himself — His own perfect mortal life and willingness to suffer and die for the sins of all — to balance the scales of justice and overcome sin and physical death.

From the courts on high, He would descend to mortality into the rude surroundings of a stable. His life would continue to be one of condescension, suffering "the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam" (2 Nephi 9:21).

The Creator's plan solved both issues at once: He overcame both sin and death.

This, then, is what we commemorate at Easter — the success of the Father's plan through the selflessness of the Son in our behalf. It means that "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Revelations 21:4).

It means rejoicing and jubilation as baby Rachels shall all be restored to their mothers.

"This is the clarion call of Christendom," said President Monson, speaking in the October 1981 general conference. "The reality of the resurrection provides to one and all 'the peace that surpasses understanding' (see Philippians 4:7.) It comforts those whose loved ones lie in Flanders fields, who perished in the depths of the sea... It is a universal truth. ... I declare my personal witness that death has been conquered, victory over the tomb has been won. May the words made sacred by Him who fulfilled them become actual knowledge to all. Remember them. Cherish them. Honor them. He is risen."