Our treasured heritage

Under dark skies this past week that for several days had drenched the valley with rain, the group of about 60 people braved the ever-threatening clouds and gathered in the local cemetery. Some had traveled considerable distance.

Those who came ranged in age from tiny infants, who were brought by their parents and who were in the early spring of their lives, to those in their 90s, now in life's deep winter and who undoubtedly before too many more years would, as Daniel recorded, "sleep in the dust of the earth." (See Dan. 12:2.)They had come to the cemetery to honor their pioneer ancestors who were buried in the family plot, mostly in the 1850s, '60s and '70s. What had brought them there was the dedication of a new headstone monument that listed the names of the 15 who are buried there.

All but two of the 15 had just days before been in unmarked graves - not on the high plains of Wyoming, but in the center of pioneer Zion. Undoubtedly there had been headstone markers of some kind placed when they were buried so many years ago, but through the years and perhaps due to the ravages of nature, the markers were no more.

Now a new, permanent granite monument stands at the head of the family gravesite, a testimony that those whose remains are buried there are not forgotten; a testimony that, indeed, there is a bond between the living and the dead.

If there is no such bond, why did a young couple, bringing their infant child, travel 650 miles across three states to attend the ceremony? Why did others bring photos and histories of some of the pioneer ancestors to share with family members if there is not a desire to draw closer to those who had departed? Why did those attending brave the inclement weather of autumn, with its rain and chill, to pay tribute to their forebears whom they had never seen or met?

But the fact remains that there is something special between us who are living today and our ancestors who died yesterday. There is an innate desire for us to get to know them, for, as President Ezra Taft Benson said at the dedication of the Ogden Temple in January 1972, "We are largely a product of our progenitors." Yes, the hearts of the children do turn to their fathers, as Malachi said they would. (See Mal. 4:5-6.)

As President Benson spoke at the Ogden Temple dedication, he continued: "Their [our progenitors'T strength sustains us, their weaknesses, if any, warn us of traits and tendencies to curb and avoid. Their love and devotion bring to fulfillment the Savior's great law of love with combined loved ones and families joyfully together in time and throughout eternity. We owe them much more than we can ever repay. A noble heritage has always been regarded as one of life's greatest treasures." (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 161.)

What a promise - families combined joyfully together in time and throughout eternity. Is there any wonder that a strong bond does exist between us and our departed ancestors?

Even though our treasured heritage is a gift, we do owe our progenitors something for what they left us.

For many in the Church, their heritage goes back through several generations of Latter-day Saint ancestors. To these, President Spencer W. Kimball said at a Pioneer Day sunrise service that if our pioneer forebears could ask something of us, they would request: "That we, their posterity, . . . consecrate our lives, our fortunes, our energies, and ourselves to the work of the Lord, the cause for which they gave so much.

"Their fondest wish would be that we carry on, living the gospel, remembering that our example is most telling."

President Kimball continued, "May each of us assume personally the responsibility of honoring the memories of our noble ancestors by living as they wished us to live, and by fulfilling the hopes they had for us." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 157.)

For others in the Church, their heritage in the gospel may be limited to only one or two generations, or perhaps they may be first-generation members. To them there is also an obligation to their ancestors: To not only live in such a way as to receive celestial glory, but also to provide the ordinances of salvation to those who have gone on before.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that we, without our ancestors, cannot be made perfect. (See D&C 128:15.)

Yes, families can be forever, and because of the great and infinite sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, the day will come - if we have so lived for it - when we, indeed, will be joyfully together as families.

That's why such a strong bond exists between us and our departed ancestors, a bond that neither death nor the passing of years can separate.

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