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Sing Redeeming Love

Brothers and sisters, good morning and aloha.

When I was asked to speak at Devotional, my first thought was “I wish my family were here,” so I have asked some of my family to help me today. You have already met this morning my nieces Jamie Bunker and Miranda Graham. A few more will help me later. I also thank these fine musicians for the musical numbers. 

I have a question for you today, first asked by Alma in  The Book of Mormon

Can you sing redeeming love? 

That brings up another question. What does it take to always be able to sing redeeming love? 

It doesn’t take a trained voice like Jamie has. What it takes is an understanding of key doctrines.

Two years ago, during summer break, Miranda, another friend, and I left for Maui to enjoy a short holiday. Early the next morning, my cell phone rang, bringing the news that my brother, and Jamie’s father, Jim Bunker, had collapsed and died on his regular morning walk. He was only 59 years old.

A few hours later, we attended church at a ward on Maui. It happened that the Gospel Doctrine class was studying Alma 5 that day. As we discussed that chapter, we read from verses 26-27: "And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?" (Alma 5:26-27)

Jim had suddenly been called home—that very day! A few hours before we were reading those words! 

His sudden death made it difficult to sit through the gospel doctrine lesson, but the Lord’s timing of that lesson has lived on in my life and has been a blessing to our family.

Jim’s wife asked that I speak at the funeral, and I prepared some remarks before I left Maui, but on the morning of the funeral, as I reflected again on the scriptures we had discussed from Alma 5 in Sunday School class, I felt prompted to change my talk to these scriptures. 

Jim and his family, as you can tell by listening to Jamie sing, love music and love to sing. I wondered, was Jim singing redeeming love the morning that he died? He had read the scriptures with his family who were at home at the time, had family prayer, and then they had eaten breakfast with them, all before setting out on what became his last walk in mortality. I would suppose that he was at least singing in his heart as he walked if he wasn’t humming a hymn—as was quite usual with him. 

Not only did Jim sing often, but he loved the gospel and was a humble man. One nephew described him as someone who liked everyone he met and was “at home” with them; Jim treated everyone with respect and interest.  

Note that Alma says in verse 28, “Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life” (Alma 5:28).

For Jim that day, the kingdom of heaven was at hand.

I could give other examples of how the verses in Alma 5 applied to Jim, but this talk is not really about him but about you and me today. 

Someone here, or so it seems the Spirit has said, is suffering—from a death in your family, from illness, from difficulties of some kind. Some one or more of you here needs to know that you, too, can sing redeeming love, right here, right now, even when things seem so difficult. 

With that in mind, let’s look at some other verses in Alma 5 which speak of truths of great importance to us in difficult times: "Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them." (Alma 5:7)

Early in chapter 5, Alma reminds the people how his father, Alma, rescued them from the wickedness of King Noah. He taught them of Christ; Christ changed their hearts, awakened them out of a deep sleep, and illuminated their souls by the light of the everlasting word—as you can see in the verse on the screen.

Once this happened, the people’s “souls did expand and they did sing redeeming love.” 

"And again, I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved." (Alma 5:9)

In these two verses, what helped them at the first? Verse 7 says their hearts were changed and their souls “awoke unto God.”

Earlier Jamie sang “O, My Father” for us. This arrangement of the hymn has a story.

The day after her father’s funeral, with the family all still in town, the bishop of their ward asked the Bunker family to do the sacrament meeting program. Jamie, along with three cousins, performed this hymn, a hymn which teaches so clearly great and important principles. 

The lyrics were written by Eliza R. Snow in 1845, one year after Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed. Sister Snow’s message, in part, says,

I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.

In an article in the  New Era, Brother David A. Edwards, writes about these lyrics:

"The 'key of knowledge' [Sister Snow] wrote about is the fulness of the gospel, and the song particularly refers to Joseph Smith’s teaching about our relationship to God—that He is literally the Father of our spirits and that we are literally His children.

"Joseph Smith taught that God 'looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard' and that 'if men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves' ( Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 39, 40).

"This particular 'key of knowledge' unlocks the door to understanding. ... When we address God as 'Father,' it is not just a metaphor for a bodiless force that created us but is utterly different from us. It is a real relationship—one that we can understand and that predates our mortal birth." ("Joseph Smith's Key of Knowledge,"  New Era, November 2012.)

The first and most important thing, then, that we need to understand to sing redeeming love in the midst of difficult times is to “awake to God”—to know who God is and how we are related to him. We need to know that we really are His children and that all things that are difficult now will someday make sense in His mercy and grace.

A second” key of knowledge” is to learn how it is that we are separated from our Father and how we can return to Him. If He truly is our Father, then we are surely meant to return home to Him. How is it, then, that we can come through the difficult experiences we have on this earth—described by Alma as  the “midst of darkness” — that we would be “encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell,” — and we would have an “everlasting destruction awaiting us,” and yet still return home? How can we sing in such dark times or places?

Let me share another experience where the healing balm of music brought comfort at a time of death and taught THE central doctrine of Heavenly Father’s plan.

While doing some graduate study in London, England, I was introduced to the recordings of a Welsh boy soprano. I brought home some cassette tapes (this was long before we had digital music files) and shared them with anyone that would listen. At that time, I was living with the Dixons, the parents of a friend I had served with in the mission field and worked with in Africa, while I completed my master’s degree in Provo. 

On the fourth of July, again, early in the morning, I received a call that my father had died. He had been ill, and unlike my brother Jim, his death was more expected. 

That evening to celebrate the Independence Day holiday, the Dixons invited family and friends over, and since one of them was a music teacher, Sister Dixon played the recordings I had brought from London. One piece we all loved the most, and I have invited a nephew, Jared Wells, studying now in Provo, to sing a portion of it for you through a recording. He is accompanied by his mother.

He will sing “I Know My Redeemer Liveth” from Handel’s  Messiah. The words come from Job 19:25-26 and 1 Corinthians 15.

"For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; And though after my skins worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." (Job 19: 25-26)

"For now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept." (1 Corinthians 15:20)

[Interlude: "I Know My Redeemer Liveth"]

Imagine how I felt trying to sit with visitors I didn’t know very well and listen to that music when my father had just died. I couldn’t do it. I had to leave the room, but neither could I go far away. The music and the message pulled me strongly to them. Job’s testimony and the music Handel wrote to beautify that testimony kept me just out of sight on the stairs. 

In the verses previous to those used by Handel in his music, Job says, "Oh, that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in rock for ever!" (Job 19:23-24)

Well, these words are in a book, and they are engraved on my heart and soul forever. That day, as I sat on the stairs just out of sight, crying about the death of my father and listening to this magnificent music, a testimony came into my heart of the actuality of the resurrection and of our redemption from death and hell by the power and Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Although my father had just died, he would again, in his body, see God, and I would see my father again, also. 

That testimony, that light of true doctrine and the comfort from that experience with a song of redeeming love, has not left me in 27 years! Instead of being a sad memory, it is a memory filled with light and warmth and love and truth.

This is the second key to being able to sing redeeming love—we must all come to an understanding of the central role of Jesus Christ in carrying out Heavenly Father plan for us. 

We have to know, returning to the verses in Alma 5, that our “garments can be cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins” (Alma 5:27). 

Do we know, along with Alma, that Jesus Christ, is the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth.  Alma said, “I say unto you, that I know of myself that whatsoever I shall say unto you, concerning that which is to come, is true; and I say unto you, that I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth. And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world, yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name” (Alma 5:48).

Do you have this same “revelation of the truth” that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has “come to redeem his people from theirs sins” (Alma 6:8) that Alma had? You need it. 

Although my father died years ago, the light and testimony that came that day as I listened to the song of redeeming love composed by George Frideric Handel has not dimmed. I have never doubted the reality of the Savior’s resurrection or our own since that time. 

If life is not difficult now, if you don’t have a current serious problem or crisis, you will have one soon. For example, Jared, who sang “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” for us, faced the death of his father not long before his Uncle Jim’s death. Jared and his two brothers sang “How Can I Keep from Singing” at their father’s funeral, the song that was sung as prelude at the beginning of Devotional. It proclaims that even in difficult storms, if we are standing on the rock of our Christ, we cannot stop singing. 

We believe in two or more witnesses, so let’s add Alma’s witness of the resurrection to that of Job: “The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame. And now, my son, this is the restoration of which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets—And then shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of God” (Alma 40:23-25).

Once we know who God is and how we are related to Him, and once we begin to understand the role of the Savior Jesus Christ as our Redeemer, then we need to know He has a plan for us—a path to follow and a destination to seek.

Our birth into this mortal life is a type of gate—death is also a gate to the next life. Between those two gates, we have a path to walk. To walk successfully on the path, we have keep our testimony active and press on. 

Last week in Devotional, President Hafoka quoted from Nephi: “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:20).

That is good counsel for this life, for right now. I would stress, though, that we need to keep a focus on the goal past the gate of death, that goal of eternal life mentioned in that scripture by Nephi. 

Where are we going after we die? Do you have the image of that place in your mind and heart?

The prophet Joseph Fielding Smith said, “Who, among Latter-day Saints, is seeking a place in the telestial kingdom? Who, among the Latter-day Saints, is seeking a place in the terrestrial kingdom? With those kingdoms we should want nothing to do; it is not the intention of the man who is baptized into the Church, or ought not to be, to so live that he will not find a place in the celestial kingdom of God; for baptism, itself, is the way into that kingdom. Baptism is of a two-fold nature; primarily for the remission of sins, and then, entrance into the kingdom of God, not the telestial kingdom, not into the terrestrial kingdom, but entrance into the celestial kingdom, where God dwells. That is what baptism is for; that is what the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of hands, is for—to prepare us that we may, through obedience, continue on and on, keeping the commandments of the Lord, until we shall receive the fulness in the celestial kingdom.”

To make it to our goal in the celestial kingdom, we need to overcome the trials and difficulties of life, gain an abiding testimony of God, our Heavenly Father, and our Redeemer and Savior. 

While we are doing that, can we see in our minds where we will be? Can we keep this vision alive in our hearts and minds? 

The Apostle John says, in the book of Revelation, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven, from my God; and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the spirit saith unto the churches” (Revelation 3:12-13).

One last story. 

Miranda’s mother died several years ago from cancer. At her funeral, she requested the song “The Holy City”—that celebration of the goal given to us by John the Revelator in the New Testament. I’ve invited Jamie to sing that song as our “closing song” of redeeming love. 

[Interlude: “The Holy City”]

I thank Jamie for this last Bunker family funeral song, a song of redeeming love. 

May I remind us all that we need to overcome the trials of this life—notice the scripture in Revelation says the blessings will come to those “that overcome.” We need to keep our faith strong in the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to make sure that our feet stay on the path that leads to our place in the “city of my God, which is the new Jerusalem.” 

To confirm to my dear nieces and nephews that their parents who have died are still live, to confirm to you that you should keep your eye on the eternal goals that are taught in the gospel of Jesus Christ, I testify that Jesus was the first fruits of them that slept, that death has no victory, that we shall all, in our flesh, see God. 

May we all, as Alma invited, be spiritually born of God, receive his image in our countenances, experience a mighty change of heart, and sing the song of redeeming love.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.