The question caught me off-guard: “Do Mormons observe Good Friday?”
I started to answer, “Of course,” but here I was at work on Good Friday, exactly where I have been on every Good Friday in recent memory. I was doing nothing special to recognize the day, although there was a pretty good chance of me scoring an Aunt Annie’s pretzel at the mall that night if I played my cards right. I suppose that the more correct answer is that Mormons recognize Good Friday, but I’m not sure that we observe it. At least not in the same way as other folks.
The distinction is important, because Mormons tend to approach all of the Easter season differently than does much of the Christian world, not because it is any less important to us, but because we express our devotion to Christ in a different way. Where many Christians emphasize the ceremonial aspects of their worship, Latter-day Saints focus more on covenants.
The distinction might be easier to explain by discussing another major celebration: Marriage. Traditionally, the marriage ceremony is a significant spectacle for most Christians. It is a moment of high pageantry, with the families worrying over every detail and sparing no expense for the event. This is true even as the covenant of marriage dwindles in importance. Frequently the marriage ceremony is an acknowledgment of a relationship that has been going on for some time, and there is less of a expectation that this is a lifelong commitment any way. The sad fact is that in modern society, our weddings are increasingly spectacular while our marriages are ever more fragile and tenuous. Till lawyers do us part.
By contrast, Mormon weddings are remarkably subdued. Our highest form of marriage, which takes place in our temples, is a short and simple ceremony. There is no music, no huge crowd, no releasing of live doves. Rather, a small group of family and friends gathers in the temple, where the couple kneels across an alter and enters into the “new and everlasting covenant” of marriage, by which they commit to one another for time and all eternity. The person officiating at the wedding or “sealing” usually gives some counsel to the couple, but if he drones on for more than five minutes, everyone starts checking their watches. After the ceremony, hugs all around, and back to the minivans.
Now, we do have wedding receptions, and those are getting a little more interesting. Historically, Mormon wedding receptions consisted of a reception line in our cultural hall (in the romantic shadow of basketball nets), a shot of red punch and a piece of cake, and let’s get out of here Matlock starts in ten minutes. Now it is more common for there to be a dance, dinner, and maybe a ring ceremony for those family and friends who are unable to enter the temple. Still, these receptions move pretty quickly . If these kids have been living the law of chastity like they are supposed to, you need to get them out of there before the groom develops a permanent tic.
The reason for these scaled-down ceremonies is that nothing that happens at the reception is terribly important to us. Our focus is on the covenant made in the temple. It is all about the binding agreement between God and the wedding couple to honor each other and their faith so that their union will endure through the eternities. That is a solemn, sacred moment. I would think that for most couples married in the temple, however, those few minutes kneeling at an altar are for more memorable than anything that happens at the reception.
Coming back to Easter, It is less of an “event” for Mormons because it is not associated with any covenant different from those we renew on a weekly basis through the administration of the Sacrament (the Lord’s Supper). Each week Mormons pause to remember the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, and we enter into a covenant to always remember Him, to take His name, and to keep His commandments. It is one of the most sacred covenants we make. There is nothing additional that we “do” during Easter, although we might dress a bit snappier.
As a matter of fact, Easter Sunday often falls on the same day as our General Conference, which is broadcast from Salt Lake City. On those Easters, we actually are likely to observe the holiday at home. That might seem odd to others, but to me, if we really believe that Christ lives and leads His church through a living prophet, them the greatest way to honor His atoning sacrifice is to attend to the words of His mouthpiece.
Latter-day Saints join with the rest of the Christian world in recognizing the resurrection of Christ as the greatest moment in history and the source of all of our hope. We are eternally grateful for the infinite atonement of Christ, and we commemorate that event this Easter and every Easter. Our expression of devotion might be less spectacular, but we are a people who concern themselves less with the observance of holidays and more with the making and keeping of sacred covenants.
That said, I still have eggs to hide in the morning.