Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Washed, Anointed, and Clothed

Some months ago, I suggested that Jesus Christ's resurrection was a priesthood ordinance, and one that he received at the hands of the Father. What I did not say then is that all priesthood ordinances point back to the Atonement: 

Because the Atonement is the means by which we are brought back into God’s presence, it “is no coincidence that all of the essential ordinances of the Church symbolize the Atonement” (Nelson, "The Atonement," 4). When we are baptized we are lowered beneath the water’s surface in imitation of Christ’s death, and we rise from the depths as he rose from the grave. When we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, we are blessed with the constant companionship of a member of the Godhead—that gift is made possible only because Jesus Christ voluntarily hung on the cross at Calvary in utter solitude, bereft of His Father’s supporting spirit when he needed it most. “[B]ecause Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so” (Holland, "None Were With Him," 88); we always have access to the Holy Ghost’s comforting reminders. When we partake of the sacrament, we eat the bread and drink the water as symbolic reminders of His body and blood, which He sacrificed for us. If you glance quickly at the sacrament trays lying under the white cloth that covers them, you might even be reminded of Christ’s death as he lay in the garden tomb wrapped in white grave-clothes. When we are given priesthood blessings or anointed in the temple, a drop of consecrated olive oil is placed on the crown of our heads so that we might remember our Savior’s experience in the olive press of Gethsemane; that olive oil is a reminder of the blood that was driven from his pores as he was crushed by the sins of the world. As we receive our endowment and sealing ordinances in the temple, we are reminded of other aspects of the Atonement. We remember the nails that pierced His hands. We remember his agony as He hung on the cross with his arms outstretched toward heaven. We remember his suffering in Gethsemane as he prayed three times, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” We imagine, as we enter the Celestial Room that symbolically represents heaven, what it would be like to be at one with God again, to be “encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” There are no aspects of the saving and exalting ordinances that do not remind us of Christ’s Atonement, because without the Atonement there would be no such ordinances. The Atonement is the Alpha and Omega of salvation, the beginning and the end of our journey back to God’s presence. 

To that long list of priesthood ordinances which point back to the Atonement, I'd like to add three more, which the Old Testament groups together: washing, anointing, and clothing in the "holy garments [of] the priest" (Exodus 31:10). We learn that before Aaron and his sons--representative priesthood holders in Israel--could enter the tabernacle and, likewise, before subsequent generations of priests could enter the temple, they needed to be washed, clothed in special apparel, and anointed: "And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and wash them with water. And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him" (Exodus 40:12-13). These priesthood ordinances, like all others, anticipate and foreshadow the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

When the Savior had finished his work on the earth and overcome the power of the destroyer, Satan, "he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost" (John 19:30). Two disciples, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus, then retrieved His body from the cross to prepare it for burial. They "brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes . . . then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury" (John 19:39-40). John clearly tells us that the Savior, like Aaron and his sons, was anointed with myrrh, one of the principal components in the "holy anointing oil" (Exodus 30:23-25), and clothed in what Mark terms "fine linen" (15:46) reminiscent of the "coats of fine linen" which, with "a mitre of fine linen, and goodly bonnets of fine linen, and linen breeches of fine twined linen, and a girdle of fine twined linen," constituted the priestly dress of Aaron and his sons (Exodus 39:27-29). 

Neither John nor any of the other evangelists say anything about the Savior being washed by those who prepared his body for burial, but common sense dictates that Joseph and Nicodemus would not have bought such expensive embalming salves only to smear them on over the grime that had accumulated on Christ's body throughout the various stages of the Atonement--as, for example, he "fell on his face" in the dirt of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39). More to the point, Jesus prophesied that his disciples would wash and anoint his body in preparation for burial. 

All four of the evangelists record the story of a woman (sometimes identified as Mary, sometimes as a prostitute) who anoints Christ's feet with the contents of "an alabaster box of very precious ointment" (Matthew 26:7). When his disciples (or, sometimes, the Pharisees) object, Christ replies that "she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying" (Mark 14:8). The Joseph Smith Translation of John's version of events clarifies, explaining that "she hath preserved this ointment until now, that she might anoint me in token of my burial" (John 13:7). The woman's actions anticipate that which would be done at the actual burial of Christ--and Luke informs us that those actions included a preparatory washing that took place before the anointing; Christ explains to the onlookers that  "thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head" (Luke 7:44). 

In preparation for his return to the physical presence of his Father in that heavenly temple seen in vision by Isaiah (6:1), Ezekiel (40-44), and others, Jesus Christ was washed, anointed, and clothed by his disciples. They prepared his body for a glorious resurrection and ascent to the heavens in the same way that Aaron and his sons received priesthood ordinances preparatory to their entering into the house of the Lord and his physical presence (the "glory of the Lord," which regularly "filled the Lord's house" [2 Chronicles 7:2]).

All priesthood ordinances point us back to the Atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ, because His great and holy sacrifice is the operative power which makes those ordinances efficacious. Aaron might not have recognized that he was acting as a type of Christ when he prepared to enter the tabernacle, but we can--and we should.


Alana said...

One of my favorite posts hun. I'm glad someone is spiritual in our marriage.

Jo Jo said...

One of my favorite ones as well. I love your closing paragraph.