Deeper understanding of the Resurrection comes through experience, the words of the prophets and looking to the life of the Savior, Elder John M. Madsen, an emeritus Seventy taught during the Easter Conference at Brigham Young University on March 29.
Held for the first time on Good Friday, this year’s annual conference drew a crowd of more than 2,000 people to the college campus to celebrate the life and Resurrection of the Savior. The conference is sponsored on by the Religious Studies Center at BYU. Elder Madsen was joined by two others, Brent L. Top and Brad Wilcox, in presenting this year’s theme, “With healing in His wings.” (Please see accompanying reports.)
Elder Madsen shared a very personal story of when he and his wife, Diane, experienced the death of their infant child.
“My understanding of the meaning and significance of Easter was forever changed in 1968 with the passing of our infant son, James Allen, our second-born child,” he said. “Right after the funeral, my wife and I were riding in the hearse with that tiny white casket sitting out in front of us with loved ones and friends following behind. Suddenly, we were overwhelmed with deep and inexpressible feelings of love for our son.”
Reaching for the tiny casket and placing it on his lap, Elder Madsen opened the lid and for a few precious moments he and his wife looked at the child’s body as they began to express the deep feelings of their souls.
Elder Madsen remembered saying, “James, you hadn’t better sleep in on the morning of the resurrection! Your mother and I will be looking for you, son!” And then, they promised to live the gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way as to be worthy of a glorious reunion with him on the morning of the resurrection.
“I, like each one of you, have had, and will have, many other experiences that will forever change and enhance and deepen our understanding of the meaning and supernal significance of Easter,” he said.
Drawing from a few of those experiences in his own life, Elder Madsen spoke of the importance of Easter morning, “the Lord’s day,” when all celebrate the greatest victory of all time — the Savior’s victory over death.
One experience that deepened his understanding of the Resurrection came as he was watching President Gordon B. Hinckley in a video “Special Witnesses of Christ.” President Hinckley shared his testimony of the Savior while standing in front of the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. Using President Hinckley’s words Elder Madsen said,
“These are the most reassuring words in all of human history. Death — universal and final — had now been conquered.”
It is important to remember that Easter is the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the great crowning event of His life and mission and the capstone of the Atonement, Elder Madsen said. And it is through the Savior’s death and Resurrection that an assurance of eternal life is possible for all who have walked the earth.
“Our love for and observance of the Sabbath day, or the Lord’s day, is forever changed and enhanced as we come to understand and remember that every Sunday, not only Easter Sunday, is the Lord’s day, in commemoration of the fact that Christ came forth from the grave on Sunday.”
Another experience Elder Madsen shared about the understanding of the significance of Easter happened when he was working at Church headquarters. He noticed a flier for a lunch devotional in which Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve would speak, and decided to attend.
“Elder McConkie gave a powerful discourse on the consequences of the Fall, and as he concluded he asked this question, ‘How do you prove that Jesus is the Christ?’ There was a profound silence. No one moved or offered any response. Then Elder McConkie declared, ‘It all centers in the Resurrection.’ Elder McConkie then asked, ‘How do you prove the Resurrection?’ Once again there was a profound silence until Elder McConkie finally declared, ‘It all centers in witnesses.’”
For Elder Madsen, that was a glorious moment as he was in the presence of an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ — a “special witness” — who testified of the life and Resurrection of the Savior. It is the Disciples of Christ, as found in the scriptures, that are “witnesses” testifying of the Savior’s Resurrection.
“Just eight days after the crucified Lord came forth from the tomb, many of His faithful disciples and all of His living Apostles had seen the Risen Lord and heard Him speak and had handled or felt His resurrected body,” he said. “And in so doing, they had become witnesses.”
It is through the accounts of witnesses — both now and in the past — that individuals can find more understanding and strengthen their faith in the Savior.
“I rejoice in the flood of light that flows from the scriptures and from the teachings and testimonies of prophets, seers and revelators and special witnesses, ancient and modern, who teach us of the meaning and eternal significance of Easter — the Lord’s day — and who bear witness of the divinity and living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ!”