What of the
Elijah's Promise-An Oriental View-2, by Masakazu Watabe
Originally published in BYU Studies, Volume 44, Number 2, 2005, republished with permission
The gospel in its fullness has made provisions for people who have died without any contact with the gospel of Jesus Christ on this earth. This is particularly important for the Asians, who, though not exposed to Christianity, yet were taught to revere their deceased parents and ancestors. In fact, President David O. McKay told of an intelligent Chinese student who rejected a Christian minister's urge to accept Jesus on this very point. The Chinese student asked the minister:
"Then what about my ancestors who never had an opportunity to hear the name of Jesus?" The minister answered: "They are lost." Said the student: "I will have nothing to do with a religion so unjust as to condemn to eternal punishment men and women who are just as noble as we, perhaps nobler, but who never had an opportunity to hear the name of Jesus." 6
In other words, the ordinances for the people who will receive the gospel on the other shore was to commence in this final dispensation, and Moroni brought this announcement to the boy Joseph on the night of the Autumnal Equinox Day in 1823.7 This announcement is extremely important for the Asian people.
Would it be just a mere coincidence that this important historical event took place on the twenty-first of September? Would an unlearned teenage boy, Joseph Smith, have had a chance to learn about the significance of Higan in upstate New York in 1823 just to fabricate a date? I tend to think that it was neither a mere coincidence nor a fabrication by Joseph Smith.
The Lord designates certain days for us and sets them aside as holy days so that we can remember some important spiritual events relating to our eternal salvation.8 One of the most important holy days of all is the Sabbath. The Lord ended his work of creation on the seventh day and blessed it and sanctified it (Gen. 2:2-3). Through Moses he commanded the Israelites to keep the Sabbath day holy to remind them that he had freed them from bondage (Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:15). Just as the Lord had freed the Israelites from the bondage of the Egyptians, he has freed us from the bondage of both physical and spiritual death through his atoning sacrifice. He rose between the end of the Sabbath and the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-9; Luke 24:1-7; John 20:1), which is now designated as the Sabbath, and we have been told in this dispensation to pay devotions to him on this day (D&C 59:9-17). The word sacrifice comes from Latin sacr- meaning "sacred" and the suffix -facare meaning "to make;" it is related to such words as sacrament.9 In fact, some Latter-day apostles such as James E. Talmage and Melvin J. Ballard suggest that Heavenly Father's sacred sacrament was giving his son Jesus Christ as an atoning sacrifice for us.10
Another important holy day for members of the Church is April 6. According to the Latter-day revelations, this date marks the actual birthday of our Savior and the restoration of his Church upon the earth.11 Members meet every year for general conference in commemoration of the organization of the restored Church, just as the Israelites must have been taught to remember these and other important days designated by the Lord. I can think of other days designated as their holy days: Pesach, The Feast of Passover; Shavuot or Pentecost, The Feast of Weeks; Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement; Succoth, The Feast of Tabernacles.
Is the announcement of the coming of Elijah on the Autumnal Equinox Day coincidence? It may well be. However, when I think of the many Asians who have accepted the gospel, and I believe there will be many more when they realize what the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness offers, I cannot help but suspect that this is part of Heavenly Father's intricate plan and one of the special holy days he designates. My own father, the first convert to the Church in the city of Sendai after World War II, was overjoyed when, after studying both Catholicism and Protestant teachings, he heard about the fact that temple work could be done for his relatives and friends that he lost in the war.12
As I think of the visit to the family graveyard in Japan with my mother, her sister, and my grandfather, all of whom have already gone on to the spirit world, I am filled with joy from the knowledge of the restored gospel, and I have become more grateful to the Lord for sending heavenly messengers to Joseph Smith to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness. At least for me, and, I am sure, for many Asians and others who honor and revere their parents and ancestors, the visit of Moroni on the night of the autumnal equinox in 1823 was an extremely significant event. As was announced, Elijah did come and the promises made to the fathers are being planted in the hearts of the children, and the hearts of the children are turning to their fathers all over the world.
Masakazu Watabe ([email protected]) Professor of Japanese at Brigham Young University. He received his BA in Portuguese Literature and his MA in Linguistics from Brigham Young University, and his PhD in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of Southern California. The author is grateful to Gail King, the Asian Library Specialist at Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University, and Donald Parry, Associate Professor of Hebrew at Brigham Young University, for their valuable assistance.
1. B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century One, 6 vols. (Provo, Utah: Corporation of the President, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1965),1:71-72; Doctrine and Covenants 2.
2. Nihon Kokugo Daijiten, 1st ed., 20 vols. (Tokyo: Shogakukan, 1972-1976), 16:610-11.
3. Koshozan Myokoji," The Higan-e Ceremony, Memorial Service during the Equinox," http:// www.myokoji.jp/page/higane.htm.
4. Roberts, Comprehensive History, 1 :389,2 :76;Doctrine and Covenants 110.
5. Joseph Fielding Smith, in 106th Annual Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1936):75.
6. Llewelyn R. McKay, True to the Faith: Sermons and Writings of David O. McKay (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 21-22.
7. Some may argue that September 21 in the United States is September 22 in Japan. According to the Myoshinji Temple website, "The Higan-e Ceremony is widely practiced in all forms of Buddhism in Japan and is usually conducted on March 21 and September 22, the days of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.""Memorial Service During the Equinox-Higane," http://nichirenshoshumyoshinji.org/ScheduleData/Ceremonies/Higane.htm.
8. "The Purpose of Holidays,"" The Sabbath( Shabbat),Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis-2 Samuel (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1980), 181.
9. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary,11th ed.,s.v." Sacrifice."
10. See James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 214 and M. Russell Ballard, ed., Melvin J. Ballard-Crusader for Righteousness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966),1 34-37.
11. Roberts, Comprehensive History, 1995-96; Doctrine and Covenants 20:1; 21:3; Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 104.
12. See Masao Watabe's story in Spencer J. Palmer, The Expanding Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978) 171-75.