Editor’s note: This is part eleven in a series of counsel from members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the COVID-19 outbreak. Read counsel from President M. Russell Ballard, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder David A. Bednar, Elder Quentin L. Cook, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Elder Neil L. Andersen, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, Elder Dale G. Renlund and Elder Gerrit W. Gong.
During this time of great vulnerability caused by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have found strength and protection through Sabbath observance, said Elder Ulisses Soares.
COVID-19 “is changing my way of thinking,” said Elder Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “I’m learning new ways to be better prepared for other challenges that may come in the future in my life. I’m seeing things that I was not seeing before. I am feeling more inclined to think more about other people and reach out to them instead of focusing on my own needs.”
Speaking via videoconferencing as part of a Church News series highlighting counsel and direction from Latter-day Apostles during the coronavirus crisis, Elder Soares said that Sunday worship has and will continue to help Latter-day Saints living in an age of doubt and fear to increase faith in their Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
COVID-19 has created world-shaking challenges — causing illness, death and economic insecurity and impacting the ministry of Church leaders and members, he said. Amid the tragedy, there “have also been blessings and learnings.”
One of those blessings has been learning “creative ways to reach out to the people” — especially on the Sabbath day. He and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares, “have been able to minister to those who are very dear to us that we haven’t seen lately who played a role in our life history and became part of our lives.”
Other learnings include forgetting myself, being humble, asking for help, and offering support to those who are in despair.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, members can lift and strengthen one another. It is one way the Lord takes care of His children, he said.
“These lessons will help us establish a framework for the future,” he said. “We cannot see this pandemic as a barrier but as something that has the potential to help us to become better in every aspect of our lives.”
The Sabbath day
Reflecting on his personal experiences during the past three months, Elder Soares emphasized the importance of making the Sabbath a delight.
“Delight means something comforting, something pleasant, something that brings rejoicing, something that draws us closer to the Savior and helps us to develop more spirituality,” he said. “The Savior is a delight. As we draw closer to Him, we feel that delight.”
The Apostle recalled that a few years ago, President Nelson asked Latter-day Saints to ponder two important questions. “Is the Sabbath really a delight for you and for me? How can we ensure that our behavior on the Sabbath day will lead to joy and rejoicing?”
Elder Soares said the COVID-19 pandemic “is giving us the opportunity to elevate the power of the Sabbath day in our lives.” He called Sunday worship “one of the most influential and meaningful things that we can do in our homes to draw us closer to the Savior.”
“The Savior is a delight. As we draw closer to him, we feel that delight.”
Throughout history, Prophets have always proclaimed the importance of Sabbath observance.
“The focus on the meaning of the Sabbath day, and its application in our lives, is really a measure of protection and a measure of prevention,” said Elder Soares. “Why do I say that? Because when we focus on keeping the Sabbath day holy, we build and fortify our faith in God and in His promises, and we deepen our conversion. … We will be able to cope with the challenges of this very confusing world.”
The commandment to observe the Sabbath day is a reminder of the need for “our spiritual nourishment” and the duty to remember the Savior. This is so fundamental for every individual or family in these days, said Elder Soares.
In recent months, Elder Soares said he and Sister Soares have been anxious for Sunday to come. “We try not to do anything else before we prepare for and partake of the sacrament.” Then “we prepare activities that would enhance the things that we just learned and felt.”
Elder Soares said the word “Sabbath” comes from a Hebrew word that means “rest.” The word “holy” means something that “is sacred or dedicated to God.”
So, the seventh day is a holy day, a day that is supposed to be different from the other days of the week, he emphasized.
The Sabbath day is a “gift from the Lord to us. It is not a burden to us. … It is an opportunity for spiritual renewal and to ponder what happened during the week.”
The home is the ideal place to learn about this. “Our home is our protection. It is a place where we can help ourselves and those in our household have spiritual experiences.”
Retaining that same spirit during the week helps Latter-day Saints remain “unspotted from the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:9).
“Why do we keep the Sabbath day holy? Why do we partake of the sacrament? Why do we go through this process? To remain unspotted from the world.”
Elder Soares said if he knew what he knows today in the beginning of his marriage, he probably would have enjoyed the Sabbath even more.
“The purpose of the gospel is to help us to increase faith in God and in His plan and in Jesus Christ in his Atoning Sacrifice,” he said.
Elder Soares doesn’t like to think of a list of dos and don’ts on Sunday. Rather, he says, Latter-day Saints need to make sure their Sunday activities don’t take them away from the Spirit. “There are many good things we can do,” he said. “The Lord blesses us according to our faith, and our faith is shown by action.”
In Leviticus: 26:2 and 6, Moses wrote: “He shall keep my Sabbath and reverence my sanctuary. I am the Lord. … and I will give peace in the land, and he shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid.”
Applying this promise to the home is profound, Elder Soares said. “No evil thing shall penetrate our homes. This is a promise. If you want spiritual protection for your home, keep the Sabbath day holy.”
Partaking of the sacrament is a fundamental, central part of Sabbath day worship, he added.
“We do that in remembrance of the body and of the blood of the Son. And we remember His sacrifice.”
Church leaders want every member of the Church to have that opportunity — even though they know that is not always possible due to specific circumstances. Some members have gone without the sacrament as they have been isolated weeks on end during the pandemic, or for any other reasons.
When partaking of the sacrament is not possible, members can still “take a moment and elevate our thoughts and our minds,” Elder Soares said. “We can make that moment sacred. We can, in our hearts, turn to the Lord and reflect on our week. We still have the opportunity to recommit ourselves and to remember the Savior.”
For example, Elder Soares said he has, on past occasions, spent a Sunday in an airport away from home. On one of those occasions, he sat down in a chair, tried to isolate himself as best he could and “closed his eyes and turned his heart to the Lord,”he said. “I felt the Savior’s warmth around me and I knew He accepted my offering that day, even being in a crowded airport.”
Elder Soares said COVID-19 has been a time to fill his spiritual storehouse.
One of the great blessings is a deeper appreciation of the scriptures, he explained. “Most important, I think my wife and I have grown in our appreciation of our dear Savior Jesus Christ, as we have spent more time studying His life and developing a greater understanding of His mind and His heart, appreciating even more what He did for us.
“Because of that we have enhanced our faith, we have learned more about the truth of this gospel, and we have each strengthened our personal testimony.”
In recent months, Elder Soares and Sister Soares have stayed physically distant from family and friends — but are still spending time with them. “We use technology. We share scriptures. We share feelings, and we talk with each other.”
Sharing experiences is an important way to stay connected with friends and family, he said.
Sister Soares is very diligent in writing letters to their grandchildren on the Sabbath day, Elder Soares said. He and his wife have found a letter is more meaningful than just a text message, because writing a letter requires them “to sit down, to think, to ponder, to write down our feelings.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Elder and Sister Soares have spent more Sundays together, because Elder Soares has participated in many of his assignments via video conferencing and does not have frequent Church travel assignments that take him away on weekends.
“Our faith has increased,” he said. “We have strengthened our relationship. Our perspective is changing.”
Keeping the Sabbath day holy during the COVID-19 pandemic — and always — is one way to show the Lord “we are living by the covenants we made with Him and that we deserve His promises.”
He offered counsel to Latter-day Saints to make the Sabbath a delight.
“First, we keep ourselves unspotted from the world. Second, we offer up our oblations, our sacrifices, our heart to our Heavenly Father. And third, we rest on the blessings that the Lord has for us.”
Prophetic revelations in recent years have prepared Latter-day Saints for today, Elder Soares said. “The revelations we are receiving today are part of the preparation for tomorrow or next year or the years ahead of us.”