Yesterday was the second and last day of what we Mormons refer to as General Conference, an annual gathering in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. We also hold a semi-annual General Conference in October. In both cases, the Conference takes place on the first Sunday of the month. The annual General Conference takes place in April because the Church was organized on April 6, 1830.
All that to say this: the last day of General Conference fell on Palm Sunday this year. That’s not a big problem for Mormons because, though we do celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter, we don’t really observe Holy Week. I’m wishing we did. We certainly have no theological reason not to. The Bible story of Jesus Christ’s last week resonates with us. So much so, that the Church just published a series of excellent videos commemorating the events of that week. Treat yourself to them. It will be time well-spent.
I’ve decided to observe Holy Week this year. I’m not sure how, so I guess I’ll figure it out as I go. Today, I’ll begin by celebrating Palm Sunday–yesterday, I know. I’ll do that by uploading one of my favorite arrangements of one of my favorite hymns: Redeemer of Israel, arranged by Mac Wilberg. Before I do, I need to tell the story of my first experience with the arrangement.
Wilberg was teaching at BYU at the time, and my sister Megan was a member of his choir, The BYU Singers, BYU’s best choir. It was Sunday, and Megan and the choir were singing in Wilberg’s ward in Provo, so I attended the service with her husband Jon Carling. The choir sang Redeemer of Israel as the closing song for the meeting. Since we often sang the hymn in our sacrament meeting–the principle worship service in the Church–I was listening, but not really paying close attention until suddenly in the last verse Wilberg asked the congregation to join in and at the same moment the women voices in the choir soared to angelic heights. All I remember after that is hearing people sniffling and blowing their noses during the prayer. Like me, they were all sobbing at what they had just heard.
With that out of the way, here’s Redeemer of Israel. Don’t miss the last verse.
Redeemer of Israel
Redeemer of Israel,
Our only delight,
On whom for a blessing we call,
Our shadow by day
And our pillar by night,
Our King, our Deliv’rer, our all!
We know he is coming
To gather his sheep
And lead them to Zion in love,
For why in the valley
Of death should they weep
Or in the lone wilderness rove?
How long we have wandered
As strangers in sin
And cried in the desert for thee!
Our foes have rejoiced
When our sorrows they’ve seen,
But Israel will shortly be free.
As children of Zion,
Good tidings for us.
The tokens already appear.
Fear not, and be just,
For the kingdom is ours.
The hour of redemption is near.
Restore, my dear Savior,
The light of thy face;
Thy soul-cheering comfort impart;
And let the sweet longing
For thy holy place
Bring hope to my desolate heart.
He looks! and ten thousands
Of angels rejoice,
And myriads wait for his word;
He speaks! and eternity,
Filled with his voice,
Re-echoes the praise of the Lord.