Easter’s Promise and the Atonement

Every day I’m watching for signs of spring–symbols of Easter’s promises. Easter’s first promise—of the resurrection means so much more to me now that I have so many loved ones already awaiting it. However, the promise I’m thinking of today is the one that depends on our choice to accept the Savior’s atoning gifts of forgiveness, renewal, and the cleanliness of a new heart.

A few springs ago Doug and I worked in the yard pruning roses, raking leaves, digging out from winter. We hadn’t thoroughly cleaned out the rose hedge for several years (I’ll use my auto accident and injury as an excuse) and it turned into a major project. The pungent smell of dead leaves contrasted with the fragrance of spring blossoms; I kept thinking of symbolisms–how the project resembled cleaning out my heart after the long winter of my soul–getting out all the debris, the dead leaves and dry twigs of old patterns, false beliefs, and traditions. I removed clipped branches from previous prunings that had fallen into the hedge; they were dry, withered, brittle, and I thought of John 15:5 “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire.” Because I hadn’t finished the cleanup job when I originally clipped them, but had left to be gathered up later, I thought of half-finished repentance and how much harder the job can be when I’ve neglected it for a time.

The hedge looked incredible when we finally finished. So clean, so open–like I want my heart to be. However, I can’t complete the cleansing of my heart by my own efforts. Christ, the “finisher of our faith” is also the finisher of the cleansing process. His grace completes the task through the Atonement “after all that I can do.”

The Scope of the Atonement

It took me a half a lifetime to even begin to understand the amazing scope of the Atonement, how much I needed it every day, and how it personally applies to me.

As a conscientious (and self-righteous) teenager, when we sang “I Stand All Amazed,” in church, when we got to the words “To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine,” I thought: I’m not proud. I’m not rebellious; I don’t have anything to be rescued from. How immature, how prideful, how ignorant I was.

Years later, as a young mother, more aware of my weaknesses and faults, I still did not understand much about the personal nature of the Savior’s sacrifice for me. I sat in a Relief Society lesson about the Atonement feeling a bit detached–loving the Savior, but ignorant of how much I needed His grace in my life. Perhaps I was one of those Bruce Hafen refers to in his book, The Broken Heart: “I grieve for those who, in their admirable and sometimes blindly dogged sense of personal responsibility believe that, in the quest for eternal life, the Atonement is there only to help big-time sinners, and that they, as everyday Mormons who just have to try harder, must “make it” on their own. “(p. 20)

Reading another landmark book Believing Christ, by Stephen E. Robinson began to take the blinders off my soul and helped me see that my challenge was not to earn my way to worthiness. He tells of his wife Janet’s burnout when she was trying to do all the right things, and how she wanted to give up when she realized she could never do it all. I had to go through similar experiences before I could say with her, ”I’ve always had a testimony of the Savior and believed that he is the Son of God. I have always believed that he suffered and died for me. But now I know that he can save me, that he can save me from myself, from my sins, from my weakness, from my lack of talent.” (p.34)

Gaining a better understanding of the depth and breadth of what the Atonement covers has saved my life here and now as well as given me hope for eternal salvation. Brother Hafen said, “The Savior’s victory can compensate not only for our sins but also for our inadequacies; not only for our deliberate mistakes, but also for our sins committed in ignorance, our errors of judgment, and our unavoidable imperfections.” ( Broken Heart, p. 20)

Oh, the joy of knowing that the Savior will take weak, inadequate, foolish me, and according to my willingness, cleanse my heart of all the sins I’ve committed in ignorance and through poor judgement. But what about the pain my weaknesses and errors have caused me and others? How can I find the joy of the gospel when my broken heart is wounded and bleeding? Brother Hafen answers, “The Atonement not only pays for our sins, it heals our wounds–the self-inflicted ones and those inflicted from sources beyond our control. The Atonement also completes the process of our learning by perfecting our nature and making us whole. In this way, Christ’s atonement makes us as he is. It is the ultimate source of our forgiveness, our perfection, and our peace of mind.” ( Ibid p. 29) Colleen Harrison’s book He Did Deliver Me from Bondage points out the Book of Mormon roadmap for bringing Christ’s atonement into the very warp and woof of life’s tapestry. That book, too, has made a great difference in my life.

The Personal Nature of Christ’s Atonement

This Easter when I sing from “He is Risen!”, especially the words “Christ has won the victory” (Hymn 199) my heart will swell with the joy of knowing that the Savior’s victory includes me! Because of His love and sacrifice and because He cares for me personally as one of His children, He is willing to raise me up out of my weaknesses and sins. Brother Hafen said, “ A sense of falling short or falling down is not only natural but essential to the mortal experience. Still, after all we can do, the Atonement can fill that which is empty, straighten our bent parts, and make strong that which is weak. (Ibid, p. 20) I will sing with the hope that He will reach down, even to me, and show me the way back Home. With my total cooperation, He can even create in me–line upon line, precept upon precept–a Christlike character. I will rejoice in the knowledge that I don’t have to walk the lonely path towards perfection alone, thinking somehow that I have to reach a certain level of goodness before I am worthy of His help. Now I know He is the Path, the Way, the Light of my Life. His purpose is to strengthen me each step of the way; in fact, I can do nothing without Him, (John 15:5) but “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Becoming As a Little Child

This spring I have two tiny one-year-old granddaughters who will experience outdoor joy for the first time–running barefoot in the grass, loving the the sunshine! Through the two-fold promise of Easter, I can become like them–again as a little child–clean, forgiven, born again, full of the joy of life, with renewed childlike faith that after every winter comes the spring.

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