Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Easter in Bolivia

[March 29, 2016]

This last week has been very busy, so I haven't gotten out to take any pictures... So, if you don't like words, you might as well stop now.

Last week was "La Semana Santa" - Holy Week here in Bolivia. As Bolivia is predominantly Catholic, the population at large knows about Easter. On Friday, Good Friday, we were walking around, and it was clear that it was a holiday - no trufis, very little traffic, many places closed, and lots of people gathered at the Cathedral at the Plaza Recoleta. It is one of the seven (?) major cathedrals here in Cochabamba (I may have the number wrong - there may be more major ones).

As we walked past, the cathedral was full to overflowing, and although we didn't get close enough to actually look in, we imagined they must be having Mass. There were vendors outside, interestingly enough, selling chocolate Easter eggs, and other paraphernalia - I'm suspicious that this is a borrowing of traditions from other cultures, since there really wasn't a lot of it. All said, the people of Bolivia are generally pious and believing in their religious traditions, even though they are sometimes blended with more ancient, non-Christian kinds of beliefs as well.

What was maybe even more interesting was the lack of any real focus on Easter in our Sacrament Meetings on Sunday. Molly and I both thought it was a bit strange. It was Fast and Testimony meeting because of General Conference next Sunday, so there really wasn't an opportunity for an Easter Cantata, or talks focused on the Atonement and Resurrection. But, we thought they might sing some Easter hymns as opening and closing songs. I think part of the problem is that they don't know those hymns, so they don't choose them.

Nonetheless, I started asking members about Easter. Some of them didn't realize it was Easter. None of them seemed to be bothered by the lack of focus on the Atonement and Resurrection. As I was pondering this, one comment from a conference talk (I think. I don't have the reference at hand and am too lazy to look.), came to mind. Basically (much paraphrased), the sense of it was, we celebrate the Atonement every week with the Sacrament. We don't really need to focus on it specifically if we understand that, and are worshiping effectively each week as we take the Sacrament.

Even so, in our home, our tradition has been to de-emphasize the Easter Bunny, secular traditions, and to use Easter as a time to teach and remind ourselves of the eternal significance of the Atonement and Resurrection. Over the years, it has certainly helped me to direct my thoughts and understanding of what Christ did for us, the supernal doctrines of the Atonement, and my appreciation of it more and more each year.

I wonder if, in the process of converting to Mormonism, the members have consciously tried to distance themselves from their old Catholic traditions and beliefs, since the prominent presence of the cross in their worship seems to emphasize the pain and suffering as opposed to the joy and salvation that we tend to emphasize in our worshiping. Who knows? It's just an observation of a difference that was hard to miss.

In that light, though, President Jensen taught a Family Home Evening last night focused on Christ and the Atonement. He started by quoting Jacob 4:12:

" . . .  for why not speak of the atonement of Christ, . . . "

Since he spent a number of years as one of the Seven Presidents of the Seventy, he had many opportunities to be taught, literally, at the feet of prophets. In one of their meetings, they were asked to ponder three inspired questions in their teaching:
  1. When was the last time you taught doctrine?
  2. When was the last time you taught the Atonement?
  3. What scriptures did you use?
He then proceeded to teach our missionaries about the Atonement from three perspectives:
  1. Events of the Atonement, oriented around how Christ was always revealing Himself as the Son of God, how he was constantly training leaders, how he increased in popularity, while simultaneously feeling increased hatred and efforts to take His life. All of this culminated in what President Jensen called Christ's "divine rendezvous" in the garden, on the cross, and at the tomb.
  2. Doctrines of the Atonement, especially focusing on His roles as Advocate, intercessor, and Mediator, using many scriptures to highlight these doctrines. One comment he made was that where you see the word "gospel", you can replace it with "doctrine" and vice-versa.
  3. Application of the doctrines, again focusing on how Christ's role as mediator, pleading  our cause, and advocating with the Father in our behalf, again using the scriptures heavily. He taught us again about how the translations of the word that is translated "atonement" in one place is translated as "reconciliation" in others. Literally, reconciliation (from Latin), means to "sit down again with" - and then he cited Alma 38:15:
  • 15 And may the Lord bless your soul, and receive you at the last day into his kingdom, to sit down in peace. 
It was all very uplifting and insightful, and helped me really appreciate the Atonement more fully.

So, despite the fact that we missed a focus on Easter in our Sacrament Meetings on Sunday, we had a very sweet opportunity to reflect, appreciate, and renew our commitment to and love for the Savior in our work here at the Temple.

The Temple from last July.

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