I gave a talk yesterday; the text is pasted herein. It’s long, but easy reading, I promise.
The prophecies recorded in the Book of Isaiah take as a major theme the failures and triumphs of Zion, the holy city that gathers the Lordâ€™s covenant people living together in unity. God requires righteousness of his people, the prophet reminds us again and again, and until they obey him they will be smitten and scattered by their enemies. But in the end, the Lord will honor his covenant, Zion will be restored, and the Lord will dwell among his people in the holy city. It is on this comforting note in Isaiah 25 that the prophet writes, â€œO Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee and praise thy name; â€¦ For in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, â€¦ He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all facesâ€?. In these verses, Isaiah makes a poem from two of the most universal human experiences —weeping and eating—to describe the redemptive work of Zion. I think most of us share an intuitive emotional response to the images of marrow and tears. But why would Isaiah have chosen weeping and eating, specifically, to talk about Zion?
To start answering that question, let me show you this book. â€œA Bite of the Best and More: Edgemont 14th Ward Relief Society Cookbook.â€? My husband grew up in the Edgemont 14th Ward, in Provo Utah, and a few years ago my mother-in-law gave me this cookbook. Itâ€™s a good book with many hundreds of recipes collected inside, and Iâ€™ve prepared a few of them. Mostly, though, I like to sit in bed and read through the pages. It makes surprisingly good entertainment—through all four recipes for shrimp dip, five taco soups, eight lasagnas, fourteen zucchini related dishes, and—get ready for it—no less than twenty dinner roll recipes. Occasionally there are moments of high comedy: the recipe for salmon fondue, for example, followed immediately for the recipe for seafood fondue casserole, or Simon and Garfunkle Chicken, made with, yes, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Itâ€™s educational, too: one gets a good sense for the demographic of the Edgemont 14th ward with recipes like Frito Salad, Cool-Whip Delight, Tater-tot Casserole, 7-Up Chicken, Snickerâ€™s Salad, and (my favorite) Cheez soup. As you read past Appetizers and into Main Dishes, though, what begins to emerge as the strongest theme is the web of relationships that anchors the ward in place: a recipe called Sueâ€™s Salad, submitted by Julie Grow, followed by a recipe for Julieâ€™s Spinach Salad, submitted by Sue. Marieâ€™s Strawberry and Sour Cream Jello. Grandpa Andersonâ€™s Pancakes. The Frog-Eye Salad that was my husbandâ€™s favorite growing up, and his best friend Rolfâ€™s Favorite Casserole. In the spaces between the recipes, one begins to understand how visiting teaching treats, ward 4th of July breakfasts, potluck Christmas parties and, yes, Grandma Jonesâ€™ raspberry pie can turn a group of people into a community. Food brings people together in mutual sharing, sympathy and work, and people living together in that kind of fellow-feeling are friends. Zion, where the Lord promises to make unto all people a feast of fat things, is a righteous community of friends.
Maybe itâ€™s my fondness for reading between the lines that makes the story of the friendship between Alma and Amulek one of my favorites in the Book of Mormon. There arenâ€™t many verses describing the relationship between these two men, but the verses we do have are profoundly suggestive. We learn in Alma 8 that Alma, having been instructed of the Lord to return to the wicked city of Ammonihah and continue his ministry, â€œentered into the city by another way. â€¦ And as he entered the city was an hungered, and he said to a man: Will ye give to an humble servant of God something to eat? â€¦ And it came to pass that the man received him into his house; and the man was called Amulek; and he brought forth bread and meat and set before Alma. And it came to pass that Alma ate bread and was filled; and he blessed Amulek and his house, and he gave thanks unto God. â€¦ And Alma tarried many days with Amulek before he began to preach unto the people.â€? The two men shared nourishment with one another at the foundation of their friendship: Amulek nourished Alma with bread and meat, and Alma nourished Amulek with the good word of God, teaching him the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the next few chapters we learn about the events of their ministry in Ammonihah, by turns thrilling and heartbreaking: their powerful sermons on the doctrine of Christ and the priesthood, their imprisonment and the brutal martyrdom of the believers, probably including Amulekâ€™s own family, their miraculous escape from prison, and their ministry in Sidom, where they raised Zeezrom from his death bed and established a thriving church of believers. Amulek, I can imagine, would have been left numb with grief, confusion, and elation, and in this state, the Book of Mormon records, Alma â€œtook Amulek and came over to the land of Zarahemla, and took him to his own house, and did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord.â€? What a sermon of friendship lives in these few lines! There would have been food, I am sure, and many tears, as Alma welcomed Amulek into his home, this time; no more strangers and foreigners in Ammonihah, the two of them, but fellow citizens with the Saints, and, there in Almaâ€™s home, of the household of God.
I can imagine that the young Joseph Smith was greatly moved by the story of Alma and Amulek as he translated it from the plates. His was an expansive, impulsive nature: he loved his friends dearly and immediately, and he was deeply troubled by acrimony among his friends and family. WW Phelps, one of Joseph’s closest friends who had had extraordinary spiritual experiences during the dedication of the Kirtland temple, but who had turned against Joseph during the Missouri troubles and became one of his bitterest enemies, was excommunicated in 1839. By 1840, he repented and wrote Joseph asking to come back: “I am as the prodigal son, though I never doubt or disbelieve the fulness of the Gospel. â€¦ I have done wrong and I am sorry. The beam is in my own eye. I have not walked along with my friends according to my holy anointing.” Joseph, after all his family and all the saints suffered under the hands of the apostates in Missouri, had every reason to be bitter and angry, but he immediately responded: “It is true, that we have suffered much in consequence of your behavior — the cup of gall, already full enough for mortals to drink, was indeed filled to overflowing when you turned against us… Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, For friends at first, are friends again at last.” WW Phelps was true and faithful from then on, was with Jospeh as he rode to Carthage, and visited him in Carthage Jail on the morning of June 27.
Joseph longed for peace and friendship, for reconciliation and neighborliness, for a retreat from contention and acrimony—but he was determined to achieve that peace not by separating the feuding parties, but by bringing them together and keeping them together in a holy city, in Zion.
As Joseph revealed to the Saints the plans for this New Jerusalem, the city where they would live together in harmony with all things in common, he would surely have had in mind Isaiahâ€™s vision of Zion as a place of comfort and feasting. He would also have reflected on the primitive Christian church, and their attempt at consecrated, communal living. We learn in Acts 2 that these first Saints â€œcontinued stedfastly in the apostlesâ€™ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. â€¦ And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people.â€? Perhaps these early Saints put together their own version of a Relief Society cookbook, with recipes for fish and loaves and honeycomb.
Joseph saw his latter-day Zion, which the Lord directed him to build in near Independence, Missouri, as a neighborly place, with the Saints living together amicably. This bedraggled frontier village would be made sacred by the unity and common purpose of the Saints, a place for friendship to thrive. Josephâ€™s first business in Independence, in April 1832, was to settle a quarrel between Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge: under Josephâ€™s influence, â€œthe difficulty or hardnessâ€? â€œwas amicably settled,â€? and â€œall hearts seemed to rejoice.â€? Josephâ€™s vision of the holy city was given concrete form in the â€œplatâ€? or city plans he drew up. Zion was to be an urban place, with half-acre lots bordering one another up and down the large city blocks, hundreds of families living side by side and fence-by-fence. This visual representation of Zion shows the importance Joseph placed on â€œsocialityâ€?, on being together communally as friends and neighbors: he could have flung his Saints wide across the open prairies in isolated villages and farms, but he gathered them together in one place. And as the plat shows, this place was centered and organized around the temple.
The temple was at the physical center of Zion, but it was also at the spiritual center of the friendships that were to hold Zion together: temples are about covenants, and it turns out that true friendship is about covenants, too. Friendship, Joseph taught, â€œis one of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism.â€? â€œIt was my endeavor to so organize the Church,â€? he wrote, â€œthat the brethren might eventually be independent of every encumbrance beneath the celestial kingdom, by bonds and covenants of mutual friendship, and mutual love.â€? Zion, Joseph saw, was a kind of spiritual triangle, built from the vertical covenant-connection we each have with God and the horizontal covenant-connections (friendships) we each have with each other. It is because of this, because friendship is elevated to the level of covenant, that Joseph could assure his associates that â€œthat same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us [in the celestial kingdom], only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.â€?
The entrance to the city of Zion is at the gate of baptism, and our baptismal covenants, as we learn in the Book of Mormon, bind us to God and to our brothers and sisters in Christ: at baptism we promise â€œto bear one anotherâ€™s burdens, that they may be light; [to] mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in.â€? We renew those commitments to God and to our friends each week at the sacrament, the holy meal we eat together in remembrance of Christâ€™s last supper with his disciples. It was at this table, with the bread and the wine before him, that Christ taught, â€œGreater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servantsâ€¦ but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.â€? When we partake of the emblems of Christâ€™s body, we also partake of Christâ€™s friendship, which in turn binds us in friendship to our fellows: together we become Christâ€™s body as together we eat the bread. This is what Paul taught when he wrote to the Corinthians, â€œThe cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.â€? Here again, then, in the baptismal covenant and its ritual renewing, we find Isaiahâ€™s eating and weeping.
Josephâ€™s expansive vision of Zion was not to be realized in Missouri, however, and in the coming years there were too few meals and too many tears: the Saints were driven weeping from Missouri and driven weeping from Nauvoo; even in Deseret, many were driven weeping from their families. The tears were not to stop falling, it seems, until the Saints stopped gathering to Zion. During these tearful passages in which latter-day Zion seemed to be failing, Joseph must have taken great comfort from the revelation recorded in the Book of Moses. In these verses, Joseph would have understood the City of Enoch as another prototype for Zion: â€œAnd the Lord called [this] people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness, and there was no poor among them. And Enoch â€¦ built a city that was called the City of Holiness, even Zion.â€? This Zion, however, was taken up into heaven, and in a panoramic vision, Enoch sees wickedness and darkness fill the earth in its place. What happens next, though, is what Joseph must have clung to: â€œAnd it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains? How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?â€?
The tears of a weeping God dismayed Enoch, but I imagine they comforted Joseph: Godâ€™s compassionate love extends to all, even in the absence of Zion, and he weeps for our pain and failures. The tears will be dried, however: remember that Isaiah promises that the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces. In one of the most moving passages of all scripture, the Lord explains to Enoch how this will happen: when the latter-day Zion, the New Jerusalem, is established, â€œThen shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other.â€? The bonds of love and fellowship that unite Zion stretch across time and space: Joseph was witness to the Lordâ€™s promise, in his translation of Genesis 9, â€œthat when thy posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy.â€?
This supreme, sublime moment of communion, however, when God and his people will mingle tears and kisses, is yet to come. In the meantime, weâ€™ve taken upon ourselves by covenant the ongoing obligation to nourish and comfort one another on this side of the veil. Although we undertake this work in the Lordâ€™s absence, weâ€™re never more like him than when weâ€™re working together in unity toward common goals, giving up personal pleasures and pursuits for the greater good of the group. This is one of the many lessons we can draw from Josephâ€™s teachings on the nature of God: the Godhead, he taught, is inherently social, a perfected friendship of three eternally united in one common cause. It is in concert with other people that we become most like God. Church service gives us a lifetime of opportunity—frequently frustrating, but occasionally exalting opportunity— to be like God in this way. I was struck by the personal tone of President Hinckleyâ€™s address at the most recent General Conference, when he shared excerpts from his journal. He described his intimate friendships with many members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve as they changed over the years. In one entry he wrote:
â€œJuly 15, 1953â€”Albert E. Bowen, member of the Council of the Twelve, died after more than a year of serious illness. Another of my friends has gone. . . . I got to know him well. He was a wise and steady man. Could never be rushed, and was never in a rush. Extremely deliberateâ€”a man of uncommon wisdom, a man of great and simple faith. The old, wise heads are passing on. They were my friends.â€?
Of course, we need not be members of the First Presidency to enjoy the rich fellowship that he describes. The text of one our loveliest hymns, â€œEach Life that Touches Ours for Good,â€? was written by an acquaintance of mine, Karen Lynn Davidson. Karen lived as a faithful single member of the church for many years, and during this time she was nourished and sustained by the friendships she offered and accepted. The message of her hymn reflects the richness of this time in her life:
Each life that touches ours for good
Reflects thine own great mercy, Lord;
Thou sendest blessings from above
Thru words and deeds of those who love.
What greater gift dost thou bestow,
What greater goodness can we know
Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways
Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.
For worthy friends whose lives proclaim
Devotion to the Saviorâ€™s name,
Who bless our days with peace and love,
We praise thy goodness, Lord, above.
I recently came across an unusual website called â€œCrying While Eating.â€? The site features short home video clips of people, well, crying while eating: thereâ€™s a clip of Daniel, eating a bagel with hummus and crying about inconsistent weather; thereâ€™s a clip of Jeff eating vanilla yogurt and crying because his cat bit him on the toe. The site is odd and sort of funny—but often very melancholy. The thing is, almost all of these clips show an individual, alone with these two most universal human experiences. Crying and eating alone are rarely ever satisfying; crying and eating with somebody else, however, almost always are.
Dean Hughes, an LDS writer, shared his experience with crying while eating with a ward family.
In 1972 my wife, Kathy, and I moved with our two children to Warrensburg, Missouri. I was fresh out of grad school and had accepted a teaching job at Central Missouri State University. As it happened, several other Mormon professors were hired the same year, and our families expanded the nucleus of the Latter-day Saints in the area. Clearly, it was time to stop renting halls and to build a church of our own. All we lacked was money.
At that time, local units raised 20% of the cost of a building, which was a huge sum for about 40 families to come up with. We held ward dinners, brought casseroles, and paid to eat them. We put on bazaars, made crafts, then bought them. We even held movies and sold ourselves popcorn. â€¦
What we still needed was to bring in money that wasn’t entirely from our own pockets. And that was when Bishop Jim Waite got the idea to open a bakery.
He had been a baker in the navy, and a local bakery was sitting idle. He negotiated a deal to use the place on Friday nights and to sell our goods on Sundays. We called it “The Saturday Bakery.” â€¦
Our first night was a near disaster. Either the bishop was a little rusty on his skills or the yeast had lost its kick. The dough sat there and wouldn’t “proof.” (I learned the word that night.)
Time–and some added yeast–finally did get a rise out of the dough, but the sun was up in the morning before we finally took the bread from the ovens. We four bakers stumbled to bed, slept a little, then drove back to find that everything we had baked had sold. And not just to Mormons.
The next week, we baked more. In fact, we increased our output every week after that and never completely met the demand. Each Saturday morning, at 3 or so, as we bakers finished our work, a clean-up crew would arrive. Before the bakery opened, members of the ward carried in their pies and cakes and cookies and added those to the bread, dinner rolls, and sweet rolls we produced in the bakery. Another crew staffed the store.
We weren’t getting rich, but it was the best project we had found and virtually everyone was involved. â€¦
And I got so I looked forward to those Friday nights. After spending my week with abstractions, I liked producing something by hand. But especially, I liked being there with my brothers, laughing and working together.
We built our church. And finally, the day came to move in.
That same week, George Hall’s six-year-old daughter, Stephanie, was hit by a pickup truck and killed. Before we had a chance to hold a ward dinner to celebrate our achievement, we held a funeral in our beloved new building.
In our small ward, little Stephie had seemed a daughter to all of us, so everyone felt the grief. We gathered around George and Ginny and tried to share their burden. â€¦
Every now and then, I walk into a bakery and smell the baking bread–and it all comes back to me: The Saturday Bakery, the church we built, little Stephie.
I think of my brother bakers, the exhaustion and the devotion we had to our cause. I find myself longing for that kind of challenge again, just so I can feel that close to a group of people one more time.
Our love “proofed” the wholesome ingredients, and we made something fine out of the pain we shared.
So why is it, then, that Iâ€™ve called my talk â€œCookbook Zionâ€?? What is it that a cookbook can teach us about Zion that a manual or a history book canâ€™t? It has something to do with hunger, I think, and desire: our hunger to love and be loved, perhaps the clearest of Godâ€™s fingerprints on our souls, and our desire to find nourishment together. It has to do with flavor: good doctrine tastes good, Joseph taught, and Zion does too. Cookbook Zion teaches us to taste the honey and the vinegar together—not only in the dressing for Julieâ€™s Spinach Salad, but also in the experiences we share with one another. When I eat Frog-Eye salad, I taste the thoughtful concern of a visiting teacher who prepared and delivered a bowlful for a busy weekend; when I eat Rolfâ€™s Favorite Casserole, I remember that Rolfâ€™s son, like little Stephie, was hit by a car and killed, and I weep with him.
Joseph Smith said, â€œThe building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day, but they died without the sight; we are the favored people God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory; it is left for us to see, participate in and help roll forward the latter-day glory, ‘the dispensation of the fulness of times,’ when God will gather in one from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.â€?