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BYU study: Disconnect between Mormons and Easter

Published: Sunday, April 4 2010 12:19 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — For 5-year-old Ezra Hyde, it works just fine that Jesus delivers the candy eggs instead of the Easter Bunny.When he told his parents last Sunday after attending his LDS Primary class that Easter was about Jesus, they were pleased, thinking he'd grasped an important spiritual concept.Then Ezra blended that understanding with what he has always remembered about the day and came up with the declaration that a new visitor would provide the annual largess of chocolate and jelly beans.The mixed focus is not unusual for many Latter-day Saint families in their Easter celebration, according to a survey on the importance of Easter done by Keith Wilson, an associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints \"do celebrate, but it's a minor celebration,\" Wilson said. He surveyed approximately 500 people in six different Mormon wards as well as scores of BYU students to determine the importance of the holiday to active church members.\"It's almost completely usurped by general conference,\" the annual gathering of top LDS leaders and members on the first weekend in April, he said. The two-day event includes sermons and music broadcast to millions of members worldwide, and it happens to fall on Easter weekend this year, as it does about 23 percent of the time.\"I tell my students not to take that as a slam,\" Wilson said. \"That's what the restoration (of Christ's gospel) is, with living prophets speaking to us. But in LDS remembrance, (the conference) totally overshadows Easter.\"Wilson said he thinks Latter-day Saints could overcome both the general conference timing and the holiday's moves around the calendar with wider acknowledgment of the historic events that lead to Easter Sunday's celebration of Christ's resurrection, suggesting it might help to remind members on Palm Sunday of the events that happen during holy week. \"My students did a little poll this year — 350 to 400 of them — and only 2 to 3 percent of their wards even mentioned Palm Sunday. It's like we're afraid that's another Christian fabrication of mainstream Christianity and we don't want to buy into it.\"His survey respondents ranked their families' celebration of Easter a distant third behind Christmas and Thanksgiving, with only \"slightly more planning than the Fourth of July,\" he said.\"The Thanksgiving celebration is much more intense for LDS families and Christmas is off the charts. It's kind of an awkward juxtaposition when people like (former LDS Church President) Gordon B. Hinckley declare in clarion tones that Easter celebrates the most important event in all of human history, but there's this disconnect with the LDS observance of it.\"\"Look what we do to prepare for Christmas: caroling, ward parties, advent calendars that help you count down to the holiday,\" Wilson said. \"For most Latter-day Saints, we have nothing like that for Easter, yet it rightfully should be the celebration of all celebrations.\"While there is no formal church-wide celebration of Easter Sunday in the LDS Church, pockets of Christ-centered activities are scheduled by some local stakes and regions.For example, Latter-day Saints in Mesa, Ariz., produce an annual pageant focusing on the resurrection of Christ during the Easter season. This past Sunday night, two LDS stakes in East Millcreek held an Easter devotional featuring an original cantata \"Lamb of God,\" by Kay and Melvin Ward, along with a sermon by Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone, an emeritus LDS general authority.Most LDS congregations do focus their Easter Sunday sermons and music in sacrament meeting around the topics of Christ's atonement and resurrection. But lesson manuals for other Sunday worship have no specific focus on Easter, Wilson said.\"The Thanksgiving celebration is much more intense for LDS families and Christmas is off the charts. It's kind of an awkward juxtaposition when people like (former LDS Church President) Gordon B. Hinckley declare in clarion tones that Easter celebrates the most important event in all of human history, but there's this disconnect with the LDS observance of it.\"\"Look what we do to prepare for Christmas: caroling, ward parties, advent calendars that help you count down to the holiday,\" Wilson said. \"For most Latter-day Saints, we have nothing like that for Easter, yet it rightfully should be the celebration of all celebrations.\"While there is no formal church-wide celebration of Easter Sunday in the LDS Church, pockets of Christ-centered activities are scheduled by some local stakes and regions.For example, Latter-day Saints in Mesa, Ariz., produce an annual pageant focusing on the resurrection of Christ during the Easter season. This past Sunday night, two LDS stakes in East Millcreek held an Easter devotional featuring an original cantata \"Lamb of God,\" by Kay and Melvin Ward, along with a sermon by Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone, an emeritus LDS general authority.Most LDS congregations do focus their Easter Sunday sermons and music in sacrament meeting around the topics of Christ's atonement and resurrection. But lesson manuals for other Sunday worship have no specific focus on Easter, Wilson said.The BYU religion department has sponsored a public Easter conference on the Saturday before Easter for the past few years, featuring faculty members who speak on Christ-centered topics. It was at that conference in 2006 that Wilson presented his paper, examining the history of Easter worship and sharing the survey that ranked how LDS families view their own celebration in relation to other holidays.He reported that of the Latter-day Saints surveyed, \"fewer than half read the Easter story at home or knew when Easter was this calendar year. Only one in six discussed or reviewed the events of the Passion week. Only one in 19 discussed the Triumphal Entry. These participants sent a consistent message from their candid answers: The celebration of Easter among the Latter-day Saints receives little attention beyond a regular Sunday worship service.\"Though not aligned with historic Christianity, the LDS Church celebrates Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, without whom no human being could be resurrected or forgiven of sin.\"There is such an incongruity when you think about the nature of what we celebrate and the manner in which we acknowledge it,\" Wilson said.


E-mail: carrie@desnews.com

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