Beliefs Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

This Mormon is an Easter Episcopalian

In some Protestant churches they talk about “C&E people”—the folks who only show up at Christmas and Easter, get their share of holiday fanfare, and then disappear until the next major religious celebration.

I’m something of an “AC&LE” person myself. I don’t just show up at Christmas and Easter, but for the seasons of Advent and Lent that precede them.

It is during these weeks of the year that I become an Episcopal groupie, accompanying my husband and daughter more often than usual to their church. I keep (or, let’s be real here, try to keep) a Lenten discipline or two, up the ante in my prayer life, and mark the days of Holy Week.

I do these things so that I can stay both Mormon and sane.

Without these Lenten experiences, Easter would feel hollow and superficial to me. It’s funny how Mormons want to jump right to the joy of Easter but never mark Jesus’ death in the first place.

Not for us the betrayal of Maundy Thursday or the painful Stations of the Cross; not for us the image of Jesus, suffering and broken. We like our Jesus risen and glorified, thank you very much. So Easter for us appears out of nowhere, liturgically speaking. We sing hymns like “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” on Easter Sunday and have to wonder: risen from what, exactly? Was he sick or something?

So tonight I’ll be walking to the nearest Episcopal Church to hear terrible words about betrayal, broken bodies, and a footwashing servant-Christ. Tomorrow I’ll return to weep about the way they—they way I­—whipped him and tormented him and drove nails into his hands, leaving him to die in the most painful manner possible. A death that was, literally, excruciating.

It’s only then that I’ll be ready for Sunday.

It’s not that Mormons don’t believe in the cross or in Christ’s redemptive suffering. We are great believers in all of it, from Gethsemane through Calvary to Emmaus. But we don’t internalize the foundational events of Christian faith through liturgy; we don’t act them out in any way; we are keen observers always, but never participants.

Which is why Easter comes as a shock to the system if you’re Mormon. You haven’t prepared for this—or if you have, you did so individually and not communally. So Easter comes and you enjoy the music, which is a little better than usual even though you can’t have trumpets in church (!). And if the weather is nice you remark that the weather is lovely and isn’t it wonderful that Easter is sunny this year. So depressing to have a rainy or cold Easter. And you enjoy the fact that your kids are having a special treat. (Yes, eggs and bunnies feature in Mormon Easter celebrations too. We are nothing if not a fertile and candy-loving people.)

But spiritually, there’s not much to sustain you there. Mormon Easter celebrations feel much like the jelly beans in your children’s basket: a little too cloying, a lot too pastel.

So tonight I’ll be marking the pain behind the scenes, knowing that as the Book of Mormon teaches us, there must be an opposition in all things. We can’t truly know the joy of Easter until we’ve walked the road of suffering. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday: the Triduum marks betrayal, suffering, and darkness.

Those things are necessary for me to see the light come Sunday.


RELATED POST:

The Ash Wednesday Mormon


Correction: An earlier version of this post named the Charles Wesley hymn as “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” instead of “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.”

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

36 Comments

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  • So tonight I’ll be walking to the nearest Episcopal Church….

    People still walk to church?

  • Especially Mormons in Salt Lake City and other large Utah cities where ward boundaries are scant blocks from the meetinghouse. I remember how, back in the 80s I could get up on top of the Little Cottonwood State Center and see scores of steeples from the other LDS meetinghouse for miles around.

  • It’s not just a seasonal thing. Jesus said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Lk 9:23-27

    A story is told of how Mother Teresa went to a baker to ask for bread for a hungry child. The baker spat in her face. “Thank you for that gift to me,” she said, wiping the spit off her face. “Now how about something for the child?” The cross of Jesus Christ disarms those with hardened hearts and brings new life.

    The Book of Revelation is all about liturgy: “Holy, Holy, Holy…” and it says: (Rev 22:18-19) “I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

  • Sister Reiss’s comments do not reflect the attitude toward the Master of most of the Latter-Day Saints I know. The Church does not celebrate a calendar-driven liturgy, but the Savior’s atoning sufferings on our behalf are the focus of every day pondering, devotion, and perhaps most importantly, our daily repentance, so that His sacrifice may be efficacious in transforming our life to become more like Him. His sufferings in the Gethsemane and on the cross are with us always and, of course, are the focus of our weekly service wherein we participate in the Sacrament of the Last Supper. Sister Reiss, I think it might feel hurtful and irreverent to most Church members to have the thoughts or attitude ascribed to them in your comment, “risen from what, exactly? Was he sick or something?” I do hope you have a Happy Easter.

  • Mormon worship service, aka Sacrament Meeting, is excruciatingly boring. It was even worse when I was a kid and it was scheduled for 90 minutes and then often ran 120 when some wannabe Bible scholar was at the podium. Good thing that bored Mormon teens can now have their scriptures and some games on their smart phones. I’d opt for the games if I was a Mormon teen today.

  • That is the sort of sanctimonious hypocrisy that I least miss by choosing to stop attending and stop contributing tithes to the Mormon Church. But it is nice to be reminded that holy rollers and other non-Mormon extremists don’t have a patent on fanaticism. Good job at being “holier than thou.”

  • Another “offended” fanatic. The point of the article is that some churches do a better job than others of making Easter special. The Mormon Church ranks among the worst on that issue. Own it. How often does Easter fall on a LDS Church Conference Sunday and only one talk is about the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus? “Moving on from Jesus saving our sorry backsides, let’s talk about our baptism rate and how many new temples we are going to build.” It’s all about priorities.

  • I don’t disagree with most of this, I think it’s important to put this in a historical perspective. Many protestant denominations did not celebrate lent when the Church was organized, and so many Mormon traditions (or lack thereof) spring from that time. Old Calvinist and Baptist attitudes toward Holy Week persist. It has only been in the last century or so of ecumenism that the Lenten season has seen a resurgence among protestants.

  • I got that. But you were on you own unpaid ad for your version of “The Truth.” Preach it to the choir, no pennies for the plate from me. As I pointed out before, the article was not really an invitation to be anti-Mormon, even if as a Jack Mormon I am critical of the LDS Church. It was about the writer being broadminded enough to worship outside the LDS box, which you obviously are not with regards to your own sectarian “box.” Got it?

  • Thank you! I wish you peace and I hope you some day find the hard and narrow way which leads to life…

  • That sort of patronizing well-wishing just tells me that you are not headed where you think you are.

  • Latter-day Saint liturgy that evokes the suffering of Christ takes place every Sunday, when we take bread and water after we promise in prayer to ingest it in remembrance of Christ’s suffering and his blood “which was shed for them.” As the bread is broken, we sing one of the hymns that speaks of how the Son of God came to earth “to suffer, bleed and die.” One of the stories of Christ in the Book of Mormon recounts how, after his resurrection, he visited a gathering of thousands people in the New World and invited all of them to come forward and feel the wounds made in his body on the cross. In a revelation to Joseph Smith, the Savior recounts that, as Luke said, his suffering was so great that he, a divine being, literally bled from every pore. The Book of Mormon teaches us that, in his infinite empathy for us, he suffered not only for our sins, but also with us in every agony of our lives. And in the LDS temples, the ordinances symbolically invite us to feel his wounds again. The depiction of Christ we have adopted as iconic is the Thorvaldsen statue of the risen Christ, with the wounds of his crucifixion prominently visible in his side, outstretched hands, and feet.

  • One of the strange things I have always been bothered by is how little emphasis we put on the atonement and the suffering that it brought at Easter. I do think as members we have deceived ourselves in terms of the atonement and Christ. Go to an easter service and the Church and you might hear a talk about tithing than Christ. Very sad, we don’t have this in our culture.

  • A few things.
    First, when I moved to Ohio, I was shocked on Ash Wednesday. I had to look up what it was and why all these people had markings on their forehead. There is very little mention during an Easter service in the typical LDS church of what happened during that week. I suspect that is because Mormons tend to just focus on the Resurrection. Take a typical death in a Mormon family or funeral service. So much effort is put into seeing that person again in the Resurrection. They almost forget to mourn the actual death.

    Second, last year our Easter service was bumped a week forward to accommodate a Fast and Testimony meeting. They wanted us to invite people to our Easter service the week before Easter!? How strange would that feel to the typical Christian to have a service mourning and celebrating Easter week a week early?

    Generally, I agree with the premise of the post. This year we have taught our kids every day this week about what happened the entire week before Sunday in which we commemorate the Resurrection of Christ.

  • “It’s not that Mormons don’t believe in the gcross or in Christ’s redemptive suffering. We are great believers in all of it, from Gethsemane through Calvary to Emmaus.”

    With all due respect, the LDS church does not believe in “all of it.” Christ’s death on the cross, His resurrection, and our belief in Him is all-sufficient for salvation. Salvation does not come from faith plus “all that we can do.” That’s anti-Biblical. Comparing and contrasting the LDS church’s treatment of Easter with Protestant churches’ treatment is very misleading because the LDS Church is not Christian to begin with (polytheistic, God was once a man, etc.)

  • As a Mormon, or a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we are definitely Christians. Those who recognize Jesus Christ as the Savior are by definition, Christian. Because some of our beliefs differ somewhat from other Christian faiths does not disqualify us from being Christian. And because you say that we are not, does not make it true. Your words do not disqualify me from being Christian any more than my saying you are not a man (if you are), an American (if you are), etc. or any other way you would identify yourself.

  • This is my favorite comment. 🙂 Yes, the neighborhood parish is close enough that we can walk there when the weather’s fine. Happily, another nice thing about the Episcopal church is that the dress code is more relaxed, so I don’t have to walk in heels!

  • Ouch. The idea of “moving Easter” to accommodate a regularly scheduled F&T meeting is so tone deaf that it’s painful. And it’s not just a terrible idea liturgically; from a missionary standpoint, why would you sabotage one of the few Sundays in the year when people who don’t typically attend church are more likely to be in the pews?

  • Actually, at our Easter program on Sunday, We had trumpets, tuba, strings(violins, violas and cellos), flute and piano all play as part of the program, so I am pretty sure there is no mormon rule about trumpets in church! Maybe it is just your bishop that doesn’t like them.

  • It’s true that you don’t need a liturgical calendar to worship, but what I think is really wonderful about the liturgical calendar with all its seasons, holy days and feast days, is that it really keeps the Gospel of Christ alive (keeping the mysteries & events of the Gospel present our hearts and minds) in a mysterious but more tangible way… it’s like we’re actually living out the Gospel in that sense. This was also very helpful in the many centuries before the printing press made copies of the Bible widely available, and when illiteracy was common – and in some developing countries, illiteracy is still common. Also, I think the liturgical calendar also helps unite Christians universally. As Catholics, we think of ourselves as an “Easter people” because we also remember the passion and death of our Blessed Lord, as well as celebrate His Resurrection every single Mass, every day throughout the world in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

  • “The Church does not celebrate a calendar-driven liturgy”
    The Church certainly does, whatever sects like the Mormons may get up to.

  • Being told to “repent” by someone for having differing views is not a kind or friendly act. It’s a way of dismissing the other person, while pretending to be pious in the process. Hypocritical, pretend “kindness” is the real rudeness. Calling that behavior out is not.

  • BTW, Revelations was placed last in the order of the New Testament because of those verses by the committee of people who compiled the Bible. Revelations is not the last book written. The Epistles of John came afterward. The process of voting on which old manuscripts made the cut to be in the Bible and what order to put them in pretty well renders those “gotcha verses” null and void by the process of putting them there for you to use as you have done.

    Furthermore, Mormons use the countering verses in Galatians 1:1-12 to link Joseph Smith’s call to that of Paul. By that measure, Mormons believe it’s God adding to God’s word, not people, making your “gotcha verses” irrelevant to your own case.

  • Ok buddy. You keep telling yourself you’re the polite one. But maybe you would consider that you don’t have to call people out on their “hypocrisy” when they’re just expressing sincere religious belief.

  • Being sincerely intolerant and calling others to repentance in God’s name as if you have a patent on Jesus to do so, is sincerely misguided at best.

  • I am thinking there are a few too many commenters here who have either A)never set a foot inside an LDS church B) have not attended since they were 5 or C) have absolutely zero testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ or the Atonement of Jesus Christ. This goes for the author as well…

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