The use of those two words together, resurrection in mortality, appears to be perfectly incongruous at first glance. In our common parlance in the Church we understand resurrection to be something that can only happen after mortality. The resurrection “consists in the uniting of a spirit body with a body of flesh and bones, never again to be divided” ((“Resurrection.” LDS Bible Dictionary. http://scriptures.lds.org/en/bd/r/28)). This is an event which happens only after there has been a separation of the spirit body from the mortal body through the process called death. In my reading over the weekend, however, I came across a fascinating perspective from Margaret Barker which gives added meaning to the word resurrection, and our understanding of it, a meaning which can apply to us while still in our mortal estate.
I was reading through the latest FARMS Review (Volume 21, Issue 1, 2009) from the Maxwell Institute at BYU, particularly a review by Frederick M. Huchel, an independent scholar and historian, of a book by British scholar and Methodist preacher Margaret Barker entitled Temple Themes in Christian Worship. Huchel’s review is called “Antecedents of the Restoration in the Ancient Temple,” and provides an exquisite overview of Barker’s work over the past two decades, leading up to this book published in 2008 (See David Larsen’s comments on the review at Heavenly Ascents). I highly recommend Huchel’s review as an introduction to Margaret Barker, and her unique perspective on Biblical studies which has become known as Temple Theology. For Latter-day Saints, Barker’s work has profound implications and insights into many of the “whys,” as Huchel puts it, of Joseph Smith’s restoration. As an interesting side note, Barker has established a Temple Studies Group to convene symposia on temple themes, with a website URL similar to this one – TempleStudiesGroup.com.
As Huchel explains, Margaret Barker is not an LDS apologist, and “is not seeking to support Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, or the restoration” ((Frederick M. Huchel, “Antecedents of the Restoration in the Ancient Temple,” FARMS Review, volume 21, issue 1, 2009. http://mi.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=21&num=1&id=753)). Nonetheless, her work is making waves in LDS academia because much of the research she has done vindicates the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Because Barker’s background differs from the LDS tradition, some of her opinions run distinct from LDS theology. But as Huchel points out, many of these points of disagreement “find a snug fit when we become better acquainted with the nowadays-lesser-known facets of Joseph Smith’s restoration” ((ibid.)). One of those points that Huchel investigates, and the one that caught my attention, is that of the resurrection.
Barker speaks of “resurrection” as a state of perfection or exaltation that can occur during mortality (see pp. 111–18). For her, resurrection is tied up in the concept of the “heavenly ascent,” a doctrine of the First Temple but expunged by the Deuteronomists… In Barker’s language, once one had experienced the heavenly ascent and had seen God face-to-face, one was in one sense “resurrected”… Barker tells us that “the central message of Christianity was the atonement” (p. 20). ((ibid.))
Huchel reminds us of Hugh Nibley’s essay “The Meaning of the Atonement” in which Nibley showed that the resurrection is really another word for atonement (at-one-ment), along with “re-conciliation, re-demption… re-lease, salvation, and so on. All refer to a return to a former state” ((Hugh Nibley, “The Meaning of the Atonement,” Approaching Zion, http://mi.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=75&chapid=944)). It is this that occurs at the veil in the temple.
At this point I was very interested in Huchel’s analysis. In 2008 at Easter I wrote a post I titled “The Resurrection and the Temple” in which I said:
I don’t think we recognize just how inseparably tied are the realities of the resurrection and the temple. We don’t often mention the two in the same sentence, yet this might be excusable given that they represent very much one and the same eternal ideals and principles… the atonement and the resurrection are connected principles, both enabling us to return to the presence of God, for no untransfigured or unquickened mortal flesh can withstand God’s presence and live. ((Bryce Haymond, “The Resurrection and the Temple,” TempleStudy.com, 23 March 2008, http://www.templestudy.com/2008/03/23/the-resurrection-and-the-temple/))
At the time I did not realize how fully the blessings of the resurrection are extended to us through the temple. In order to stand in the presence of God, one must be in a type of “resurrected” state, something akin to what Latter-day Saints might term “transfiguration” for mortals, a perfected state, for no unclean thing can dwell in His presence (Moses 6:57). But can we achieve that state through the atonement and the temple? Br. Huchel writes:
After one has made the journey of the heavenly ascent and has been taken into the embrace of God at the veil, one gains possession of certain keys. He has the keys of traveling at will up and down the path of the heavenly ascent (see D&C 132:19–20). He has the keys to bind, to seal, and to loose. His eventual exaltation is sealed upon him (D&C 131:5–6). Whereas it is given provisionally in the earthly ordinances, it is sealed upon him by the ordinances of the holy of holies. ((Frederick M. Huchel, “Antecedents of the Restoration in the Ancient Temple,” FARMS Review, volume 21, issue 1, 2009. http://mi.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=21&num=1&id=753))
Being sealed up unto eternal life, and receiving the fulness of the priesthood, is a subject I wrote about in “The Culminating Sealing Ordinance of the Temple.” It is what we often call receiving one’s calling and election, or the more sure word of prophecy (D&C 131:5–6). It is a person’s knowing that they are sealed up unto eternal life through the most sacred ordinances of the priesthood found only in the temple. This is the ultimate at-one-ment, after which the promised blessings in John 14-17 may be fulfilled. The Prophet Joseph Smith once described these blessings:
…he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God; and this is the state and place the ancient Saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions–Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the Saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn. ((Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book Co. 1979, pp. 150, 151. http://www.boap.org/LDS/Joseph-Smith/Teachings/T3.html))
How does the resurrection factor in? Br. Huchel explains:
In short, once one has the sealing, he becomes as one who has received the blessings received on the Mount of Transfiguration. His blessings and his authority are, in effect, the same as those of one who has been resurrected in glory. ((Frederick M. Huchel, “Antecedents of the Restoration in the Ancient Temple,” FARMS Review, volume 21, issue 1, 2009. http://mi.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=21&num=1&id=753; see especially footnote 50.))
So while the body and spirit cannot be inseparably connected in mortality, yet we can have the blessings and authority of the resurrection bestowed on us while yet living in the flesh. Viewing it from this perspective, Barker is not far from describing the ultimate state of at-one-ment that we are able to achieve through the highest ordinances of the temple. Not only this, but such at-one-ment brings with it identification with the One who gives it:
Barker says it this way: “Resurrection could mean many things, but in temple tradition it meant ascent to the heavenly throne” (p. 111). Then she argues that “this means that ‘resurrection’ in this sense was part of what it meant to be the Messiah” (p. 112). This expansion of resurrection beyond Jesus himself into the broader temple context has profound implications for the Latter-day Saint concept of becoming “Saviors on Mount Zion.” ((ibid.))
The Prophet Joseph once declared that we become “saviors on Mount Zion” by bringing the blessings of the resurrection in glory to our kindred dead through the ordinances of the temple:
But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, erecting their baptismal fonts, and going forth and receiving all the ordinances, baptisms, confirmations, washings, anointings, ordinations and sealing powers upon their heads, in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead, and redeem them that they may come forth in the first resurrection and be exalted to thrones of glory with them; and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, which fulfills the mission of Elijah. ((B. H. Roberts. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Volume 6. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News, 1902, 184. http://books.google.com/books?id=pGi-iiz6juYC&pg=PA184#v=onepage&q=&f=false))
Frederick Huchel’s review of Margaret Barker’s work has given me a new perspective of how the resurrection relates to the temple, and to the blessings received there. I must admit, I have only sampled the work of Margaret Barker, but I think this has inspired me to study it much more thoroughly.
Do you have any thoughts about the relationship between the resurrection and the temple? Please share with us in the comments.