Easter morning brought members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worshipping together worldwide through the organization's 191st Annual General Conference.
The worldwide flavor of the church was expressed throughout the morning session with music being sung by choirs from Mexico and then South Korea.
President Russell M. Nelson, president of the church, requested that speakers come from around the world.
The first speaker, Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is a son of Brazil. He spoke to the topic of "Jesus Christ: The Caregiver of Our Soul."
“While through His sacrifice the Savior unconditionally removed the effects of physical death, He did not eliminate our personal responsibility to repent for the sins we commit,” Soares said.
“Rather, He has extended to us a special invitation to be reconciled to our Eternal Father. Through Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice, we can experience a mighty change of mind and heart, bringing a fresh attitude, both toward God, and toward life in general.”
Soares continued, “When we sincerely repent of our sins and turn our hearts and will to God and His commandments, we can receive His forgiveness and feel the influence of His Holy Spirit in greater abundance. Mercifully, we avoid having to experience the depth of suffering the Savior endured.”
Continuing the Easter theme, Sister Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency and a native of Nicaragua, talked about the grave having no victory.
Aburto quoted President Nelson in explaining death and resurrection:
“Death is a necessary component of our eternal existence. No one knows when it will come, but it is essential to God’s great plan of happiness,” Nelson said. “Thanks to the atonement of the Lord, eventual resurrection is a reality and eternal life is a possibility for all humankind.”
“For sorrowing loved ones left behind ... the sting of death is soothed by a steadfast faith in Christ, a perfect brightness of hope, a love of God and of all men, and a deep desire to serve them,” Aburto continued, quoting Nelson. “That faith, that hope, that love will qualify us to come into God’s holy presence and, with our eternal companions and families, dwell with Him forever.”
Aburto ended, “I testify that through the redeeming atonement and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, broken hearts can be healed, anguish can become peace, and distress can become hope.”
Elder S. Mark Palmer, of the Seventy, is a native of New Zealand. He declared, “Our sorrow shall be turned into joy.”
“The glorious message of Easter morning is central to all Christianity,” Palmer said. “Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and because of this, we too will live again after we die. This knowledge gives meaning and purpose to our lives."
“If we go forward in faith, we will be forever changed, as were the apostles of old,” Palmer added. “We, like them, will be able to endure any hardship with faith in Jesus Christ. This faith also gives us hope for a time when our ‘sorrow shall be turned into joy.’”
“I invite all who feel sorrow, all who wrestle with doubt, all who wonder what happens after we die, to place your faith in Christ,” Palmer said. “I promise that if you desire to believe, then act in faith, and follow the whisperings of the Spirit, you will find joy in this life and in the world to come.”
Elder Edward Dube of the Seventy, a resident of Zimbabwe, talked about pressing toward the mark.
“To press toward the mark is to faithfully continue on ‘the straight and narrow path which leads to eternal life’ with our Savior and our Father in Heaven,” Dube said. “Paul reviewed his sufferings as ‘not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.’"
“Paul’s letter to the Philippians which he wrote when he was bound in prison is a letter of overwhelming joy and rejoicing, and encouragement to all of us, particularly in this difficult time of uncertainty,” Dube said.
“We all need to take courage from Paul: ‘I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,’” Dube added.
During the typical time the congregation stands for an intermediate hymn, the constraints of gathering allowed for recorded verses of “I Am a Child of God” to be sung by choirs from around the world.
The second half of the morning session continued with leaders from around the world speaking.
Elder Jose A Teixeira of the Presidency of the Seventy asked those listening to remember their way back home.
“We have a divine heritage. Knowing that we are children of God and that He wants us to return to His presence is one of the first steps on the journey back to our heavenly home,” Teixiera said.
“Remind yourself of this heritage. Make time regularly to boost your spiritual immune system by remembering the blessings you have received from the Lord. Trust the guides you have been given from Him, rather than turning solely to the world to measure your personal worth and find your way,” Teixiera said.
Speaking from the Philippines, Elder Taiela B. Wakolo, General Authority Seventy, spoke of how God loves his children.
“Distractions can sometimes prevent us from experiencing God’s love in our family relationships and activities,” Wakolo said.
“A mother feeling that gadgets were taking over her family relationships came up with a solution. At the dinner table and at other family times, she just calls out, ‘On the deck, let us have FaceTime.’ She says that this is the new norm for their family, and that it strengthens their relationship as a family when they have real FaceTime. They now enjoy quality 'Come, Follow Me' discussions together as a family.
“Sometimes, God manifests His love by chastening us. It is a way of reminding us that He loves us, and that He knows who we are,” Wakolo said. “His promised blessing of peace is open to all those who courageously walk the covenant path and are willing to receive correction.”
Elder Chi Hong (Sam) Wong of the Quorum of the Seventy reminded members to let God prevail in their lives.
“If we build our foundation on Jesus Christ, we cannot fall! As we endure faithfully to the end, God will help us establish our lives upon His rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against us (see Doctrine and Covenants 10:69),” Wong said. “We may not be able to change all of what is coming, but we can choose how we prepare for what is coming.”
Elder Michael John U. Teh of the Seventy spoke of having a personal Savior.
“First, we need to recognize that knowing the Savior is the most important pursuit of our lives,” Teh said. “It should take priority over anything else.”
Quoting scripture, Teh noted that Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the father, but by me.
“On this Easter Sunday, just as the Savior came forth from His stone grave, may we awake from our spiritual slumber and rise above the clouds of doubt, the clutches of fear, the intoxicating pride, and the lull of complacency,” Teh said.
President Nelson concluded the morning session noting that the church is a global church.
“Each of God’s children deserves the opportunity to hear and accept the healing, redeeming message of Jesus Christ,” Nelson said. “No other message is more vital to our happiness — now and forever. No other message is more filled with hope. No other message can eliminate contention in our society.
“To do anything well requires effort. Becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ is no exception,” Nelson said. “Increasing your faith and trust in Him takes effort."
He offered five suggestions to develop faith and increase it:
- First, study. Become an engaged learner.
- Second, choose to believe in Jesus Christ.
- Third, act in faith.
- Fourth, partake of sacred ordinances worthily. Ordinances unlock the power of God for your life.
- Fifth, ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, for help.
“The more you learn about the Savior, the easier it will be to trust in His mercy, His infinite love, and His strengthening, healing, redeeming power,” Nelson said.
“The Savior is never closer to you than when you are facing or climbing a mountain with faith.”
Nelson noted that it takes faith to join the church and remain faithful. It takes faith to follow prophets rather than pundits and popular opinion.
It takes faith to serve a mission during a pandemic. It takes faith to live a chaste life when the world shouts that God’s law of chastity is now outmoded. It takes faith to teach the gospel to children in a secular world. It takes faith to plead for the life of a loved one, and even more faith to accept a disappointing answer, Nelson added.
Sunday afternoon session
While the morning session focused on the global reach of the church, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, felt inspired to speak about defending the divinely inspired Constitution of the United States.
“The United States Constitution is unique because God revealed that He ‘established’ it ‘for the rights and protection of all flesh’ (Doctrine and Covenants 101:77, 80). That is why this constitution is of special concern for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world,” Oaks said.
He noted, whether or how its principles should be applied in other nations of the world is for them to decide.
“Our belief that the United States Constitution was divinely inspired does not mean that divine revelation dictated every word and phrase, such as the provisions allocating the number of representatives from each state or the minimum age of each.”
Oaks referred to remarks made by President J. Reuben Clark who noted that the Constitution must grow and develop to meet the changing needs of an advancing world.
“For example, inspired amendments abolished slavery and gave women the right to vote. However, we do not see inspiration in every Supreme Court decision interpreting the Constitution,” Oaks added.
Oaks listed five divinely inspired principles he sees in the Constitution.
-- First is the principle that the source of government power is the people.
-- A second inspired principle is the division of delegated power between the nation and its subsidiary states.
-- Another inspired principle is the separation of powers.
-- A fourth inspired principle is in the cluster of vital guarantees of individual rights and specific limits on government authority in the Bill of Rights, adopted just three years after the Constitution went into force. A Bill of Rights was not new.
-- Fifth and finally, that there was divine inspiration in the vital purpose of the entire Constitution. "We are to be governed by law and not by individuals, and our loyalty is to the Constitution and its principles and processes, not to any office-holder.
“Without a Bill of Rights, America could not have served as the host nation for the restoration of the gospel, which began just three decades later. There was divine inspiration in the original provision that there should be no religious test for public office, but the addition of the religious freedom and anti-establishment guarantees in the First Amendment was vital.”
“The authority of the Constitution is trivialized when candidates or officials ignore its principles,” Oaks said.
“The dignity and force of the Constitution is reduced by those who refer to it like a loyalty test or a political slogan, instead of its lofty status as a source of authorization for and limits on government authority.
“Our belief in divine inspiration gives Latter-day Saints a unique responsibility to uphold and defend the United States Constitution and principles of constitutionalism wherever we live. We should trust in the Lord and be positive about this nation’s future,” Oaks said.
“We should never assert that a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot belong to a particular party or vote for a particular candidate,” Oaks noted.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelves spoke of God and miracles.
“Miracles are worked through the power of faith,” Rasband said. “The prophet Moroni (in the Book of Mormon) exhorted the people, ‘If there be no faith among the children of men, God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.’
“Miracles can come as answers to prayer,” Rasband said. “They are not always what we ask for or what we expect, but when we trust in the Lord, He will be there, and He will be right. He will suit the miracle to the moment we need it.
“Through faith, the miracle will come, though not necessarily on our timetable or with the resolution we desired,” Rasband said. “Does that mean we are less than faithful or do not merit His intervention? No. We are beloved of the Lord. He gave His life for us and His atonement continues to release us from burdens and sin as we repent and draw close to Him.”
Elder Timothy J. Dyches of the Quorum of the Seventy spoke of the companionship of the Holy Ghost and drawing near to the Savior. He taught that light cleaveth unto light.
“We know that sunlight is vital to all life on Earth,” Dyches said. “Equally vital to our spiritual life is the light that emanates from our Savior. In His perfect love, God grants the light of Christ to every person ‘that cometh into the world’ that they may ‘know good from evil’, and be prompted ‘to do good continually.’
“That light, revealing itself through what we often call our conscience, beckons us ever to act and be better, to be our best self,” Dyches said.
“Just as sunlight daily bathes the Earth to renew and sustain life, you can daily brighten the light within you when you choose to follow Him,” Dyches said.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of why individuals should get and stay on the covenant path.
“What is the covenant path?” Christofferson asks. “It is the one path that leads to the Celestial Kingdom of God. We embark upon the path at the gate of baptism, and then ‘press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men … to the end.’ In the course of the covenant path (which by the way extends beyond mortality), we receive all the ordinances and covenants pertaining to salvation and exaltation.”
Christofferson noted that too often a person’s problems or challenges are self-inflicted, the result of poor choices, in other words the result of “unforced errors.”
Pursuing the covenant path helps individuals avoid these kinds of errors.
“Some might say, ‘I can make good choices with or without baptism; I don’t need covenants to be an honorable and successful person,’” Christofferson said. “Indeed, there are many who, while not on the covenant path themselves, act in a way that mirrors the choices and contributions of those who are on the path.”
All things converge at the temple, according to Elder Alan R. Walker of the Seventy, who spoke of the “Gospel Light of Truth and Love.”
“In addressing the gathering of Israel in the last days, the Lord Jehovah said: 'I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.'"
Walker said, “I feel eternally grateful that from a young age the law of the Lord started to be engraved deeply in my heart through sacred ordinances in His holy house.
“The ongoing restoration has been marked by the building and dedication of temples at an augmented pace,” Walker added. “As we gather on both sides of the veil, as we make sacrifices to serve and make the temple pivotal in our lives, the Lord is truly building us — He is building His covenant people.”
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve explained and spoke on the principles of the gospel.
“Stated succinctly, a gospel principle is a doctrinally based guideline for the righteous exercise of moral agency,” Bednar said. “Principles derive from broader gospel truths and provide direction and standards as we press forward on the covenant path.”
In referring to the Articles of Faith, Bednar noted the fourth article of faith sets forth the first principles — the guidelines of exercising faith in Jesus Christ and repenting — and the first priesthood ordinances that enable the atonement of Jesus Christ to be efficacious in our lives.
Bednar said the Word of Wisdom is another example of a principle as a guideline.
“Learning, understanding, and living gospel principles strengthen our faith in the Savior, deepen our devotion to Him, and invite a multitude of blessings and spiritual gifts into our lives,” Bednar said.
Bednar noted Nelson’s learning of the definition of Israel meaning “Let God Prevail.”
Bednar recalled how many crucial decisions and life experiences can be influenced by the principle of being willing to let God prevail: dating and marriage, gospel questions and concerns, temptation, personal grooming, what to watch and read, where to spend time, with whom to associate and many, many more.
“With all the energy of my soul, I invite all of us to learn, live and love principles of righteousness,” Bednar said.
The next conference of the church will be held the first weekend in October.