Good Friday, Easter, and Mormons

By: Mormon Heretic
April 25, 2011

As Easter approaches every year, it seems that many people type “do mormons celebrate easter” into Google.  If you do that right now, you will see that my post from 2008 is the #1 result on Google: Why Don’t Mormons Celebrate Easter? Frankly it’s shocking to me that my post is ranked so high on Google.  As of today, it is my 4th most popular post I’ve ever written on my blog, and I am constantly amazed at the continued popularity of that post.  It also happens to be one of my shortest posts ever—just 2 paragraphs.  On Saturday, Fern commented on this old post asking “Are these comments from Mormons for real?????”

The title to that post may give the wrong impression.  I will clarify that Mormons celebrate Easter with family, but we generally don’t hold special worship services.  We believe that Jesus died on the cross, rose on the 3rd day, and we believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus.  However, for some reason, our church seems to eschew large celebrations or special worship services in celebration of all holidays, including Easter and Christmas.  (In fact, I would go so far to say that Pioneer Day on July 24th has larger celebrations than either Easter or Christmas, at least in Utah.  Pioneer Day is not a big deal outside of Utah.)  The church seems to like to keep these Easter and Christmas celebrations low-key, and seems to prefer that families do their own thing for Easter and Christmas celebrations.

I wish LDS church leadership would encourage special worship services, or hold a special Easter fireside.  (They do hold a Christmas fireside the first Sunday in December, though it seems odd to me that they don’t do something closer to Christmas.  I guess they want to spend their time with family too.)  In other churches, you can attend a sunrise Easter celebration or Midnight Mass to celebrate these special holidays.  Such special services are completely absent for Mormons during these holidays.  In some congregations (aka wards), the bishop may decide to have a special theme for Sacrament (aka Communion) Meeting, but this is entirely up to the discretion of the bishop.  I have been in some wards with a special theme, but more wards than not seem to pay little attention to Easter or Christmas.  (I think part of the reason is that Mormons have a lay ministry.  The bishop may not have time to plan anything special because he is already busy with his full-time 40 hour job and part-time 10-20 hour bishop.)

Every 4 years, Mormons take a different book of scripture as the topic for Sunday school.  This year we are studying the New Testament.  Last year was the Old Testament.  We also spend a year on the Book of Mormon, and another year on the Doctrine and Covenants.  If you look at the Sunday School manual, the lesson for our ward scheduled for Easter Sunday is “Who is My Neighbor?” Since we’re studying the New Testament this year, it might be easier to tie Easter into the lesson.  If we’re studying the other 3 books of scripture, the teacher is obviously going to have to do some stretching of the lesson to make it tie in with Easter.  If we’re studying the Book of Mormon, we do so chronologically, so Christ’s resurrection doesn’t happen until late in the year.  Good luck to the teacher for tying Easter into the lesson when studying the D&C or Old Testament.

If you want to know something that Mormons don’t celebrate, that would be Good Friday.  We took a family vacation to visit my parents and my wife’s parents in St. George.  On Good Friday, I asked my wife, “Do you know what today is?”  She responded, “Earth Day.”  Well, that’s correct, but not the answer I was looking for.  (I wouldn’t have known that either if Bored In Vernal hadn’t asked me for a photo to commemorate Earth Day.)  I asked her what other day it was, and she did not know.

In my job, I am working on an international medical study.  We hold weekly meetings to discuss issues with the study.  Two weeks ago, one of the principal investigators (I’ll call him John) asked to cancel our meeting scheduled for Good Friday.  If he hadn’t mentioned it, I would not have been aware of Good Friday (and frankly I didn’t know when Easter was—I wish it had a set day like Christmas does or even Thanksgiving to make it easier to remember.  This bouncing around in March and April makes it practically impossible to remember.)

Mormons don’t acknowledge Good Friday at all.  For those Mormons reading this who don’t know, Good Friday is the traditional day that Jesus was raised and died on the cross.  It is always the Friday before Easter. I believe Good Friday is a big deal in the Catholic Church.  I am not sure how well Protestants follow the holiday (and I would love to hear some Protestants comment on this—my guess is that it varies by denomination.  I would also like to hear how Catholics celebrate Good Friday.)  My boss is Presbyterian, and she didn’t seem to be aware of Good Friday or seem to have plans for it.  She came to work Friday (just like I did).

So Mormons technically celebrate Easter, but we don’t really celebrate at church.  We do it at home.  We hold Easter Egg hunts and consume lots of Easter candy.  Some families talk about the resurrection, but some don’t make a big deal about it.  I have tried to remind my children that Easter is celebrated in commemoration of Christ’s resurrection, so they know that.  But I think they were more excited about the Easter Egg Hunt held at Worthen Park in St. George than remembering the resurrection.

While milling about the park following the Easter Egg Hunt, a person handed me a card advertising a non-denominational Sunrise Service at 8 AM in Tuacahn.  (I think sunrise is about 6:47 in St. George.)  They have a 2nd service at 11 AM with nursery and “child ministry” so that adults can enjoy the services without interruption from kids.  I asked my in-laws if they wanted go.  My mother-in-law kind of wrinkled her nose and said that she didn’t want to be up in time for the 8 AM meeting, and the 11 AM meeting conflicted with her ward.  My wife looked at me like I was crazy for suggesting such a thing.  My parents and brother-in-law said they really aren’t interested in other church services.  I went to the 8 AM service yesterday morning, but it was rained out.  My parents ward had a nice choir and talk on Easter.

So why do you think Mormons don’t acknowledge Good Friday?  Why are there no special worship services in celebration of Easter or Christmas?

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30 Responses to Good Friday, Easter, and Mormons

  1. Jeff Spector on April 25, 2011 at 6:44 AM

    Nice Post. My wife told me that growing up Catholic, the family had to stop what they were doing on Good Friday and just sit from 9am to 3pm in remembrance of the time Jesus was on the cross.

    But I guess Mormons do not emphasize Good Friday for the same reason we do not emphasize the dying Jesus. In the Wards I have been in, we’ve had an Easter program which included the Choir and talks. In our area, there was a Easter Cantata last night at one of the Stake Centers, which we didn’t go to because of our family Easter dinner.

    We have always had specific Easter programs for Sacrament Meeting, so I am not sure we need more than that, personally. Strangely though, our opening hymn was “All Creatures of Our God and King” instead of “He Is Risen,” Which is what I would have expected and wanted to sing since Easter is typically the only time those type of hymns are sung.

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  2. Dan on April 25, 2011 at 7:18 AM

    Maybe if we had a Mormon Mass, get all our great composers to write spectacular music to celebrate the atonement of Jesus Christ (which includes Thursday’s Gethsemane, Friday’s Cross, Saturday’s Burial, and Sunday’s Resurrection) we might have something unique to offer for a special event other than “yet another talk.”

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  3. Diane on April 25, 2011 at 7:32 AM

    Every ward I have lived in has had a special service on both Christmas and Easter. Most often they are heavily music related with Scriptural readings to correspond to the music and perhaps one speaker. Yesterday we had one speaker and an Easter Cantata written by a former member of the ward. Each Christmas our stake has a Choirside 2 weeks before Christmas where each ward choir performs a selected song. Our stake also sponsored an Easter Cantata this year.

    I have encouraged my children to attend other religious services on the holidays to help them understand others beliefs and celebrations. As a teen I attended midnight mass with friends and a sunrise service commemorating Easter.

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  4. N. on April 25, 2011 at 7:41 AM

    I’m almost positive that it’s because the early restoration members would have strongly disliked “popery” and any thing that Catholicism would have stressed.

    our modern ecumenical sensibilities should not distract us from historical realities, I think.

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  5. Justin on April 25, 2011 at 7:42 AM

    If you want to know something that Mormons don’t celebrate, that would be Good Friday.

    I had to explain Good Friday to my wife [she is a life-time member -- I am a convert]. She said she had never heard anything about it growing up.

    In one of the talks during sacrament meeting yesterday, a lady in our congregation remarked with pride that Mormons don’t fool with Good Friday, Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, and all that jazz.

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  6. Jana H on April 25, 2011 at 8:45 AM

    My current stake (Seattle North) has a Good Friday service each year, mostly music with a short message.

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  7. Paul on April 25, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    I’m surprised that so many report knowing memebers of the church who don’t know about Good Friday. That’s simply not been my experience. Of course, except for my BYU period, I have never lived in Utah.

    I think Jeff’s spot on regading Good Friday: we focus on the resurrected Christ, not Christ crucified. But in our home, we certainly acknowledged and discussed all of Easter week as is our family tradition.

    Oh, and this year we attended the convocation ceremony for our daughter who graduated BYU.

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  8. Gomes on April 25, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    No Good Friday or Easter celebrations for us. Here in St. George, no less, it was Stake Conference and most of the time was spent to splitting some wards.

    To heck with Good Friday or Easter… we want some Easter eggs, ham dinner and to get our “church” out of the way in order to go home and relax. Last year I remember an article I pondered over: BYU Study – Disconnect between Mormons and Easter.

    Take this quote for instance:

    “Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “do celebrate, but it’s a minor celebration,” Wilson said. He surveyed approximately 500 people in six different LDS wards as well as scores of BYU students to determine the importance of the holiday to active church members.

    “It’s almost completely usurped by general conference,” the annual gathering of top LDS leaders and members on the first weekend in April, he said. The two-day event includes sermons and music broadcast to millions of members worldwide, and it happens to fall on Easter weekend this year, as it does about 23 percent of the time.

    “I tell my students not to take that as a slam,” Wilson said. “That’s what the restoration (of Christ’s gospel) is, with living prophets speaking to us. But in LDS remembrance, (the conference) totally overshadows Easter.”

    It’s sad that we focus a LOT more on General Conference than on Easter, IMO.

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  9. The Other Clark on April 25, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    Not to threadjack, but why don’t Mormons celebrate passover, either? Maybe Jeff Spector could explain? It seems that as members of the house of Israel, it would be appropriate.

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  10. Steve on April 25, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    If I could get my way, here is what I would do:

    * Use the Easter season to reach out to other churches. Encourage our members to attend programs (Good Friday, Holy Week, etc) hosted by other faiths. Announce in our sacrament meetings and in our programs.

    * Encourage groupings of Stakes to host a musical program — a mini-version of what is done at the Mesa Temple.

    * Have a musical production by the Primary. These are one of best parts of the year — why not put the program on/or near Easter?

    * Do a community-oriented service project as part of the Easter season — one by YM, YW, Relief Society, Elders, HP, etc.

    * Have a Easter message from the First Presidency read in every meeting.

    * Don’t do stake or general conference on Easter weekend.

    Any other ideas?

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  11. Latter-day Guy on April 25, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    I skip church and go to Mass during the triduum. The Risen Christ/Dead Christ argument always falls flat for me because 1) it misrepresents the focus of other ways of celebrating the season (ultimately, everyone focuses on the Risen Christ), and 2) I arose this morning, but I don’t get my own holiday; Christ’s arising is only notable because he was dead.

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  12. Paul 2 on April 25, 2011 at 2:00 PM

    Moving outside of Utah helped me figure out why Good Friday was on calendars.

    I think one reason the liturgical calendar is not appreciated is because it has historically been viewed as a post-apostasy accretion. You don’t see any evidence of non-Jewish liturgical calendars in the New Testament.

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  13. Paul 2 on April 25, 2011 at 2:06 PM

    One can “always remember Him” without making Easter a big production or different from a regular Christian worship.

    That being said, I would like us to have Easter be the most important Sunday of the year with our best music and no rehashes of conference talks.

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  14. Jeff Spector on April 25, 2011 at 2:09 PM

    “Not to threadjack, but why don’t Mormons celebrate passover, either?”

    Funny, you should ask. President Kimball used to celebrate Passover. The scriptures clearly point out that we should celebrate it “as an ordnance forever.” But the common thinking is that after Christ came there was no reason to celebrate it anymore. Not sure that is correct because while the symbolism is speaks to the captivity and escape from Egypt, it really speaks to the coming of the Savior. So I don’t understand why we wouldn’t celbrate it.

    now, it my estimation, the substitue for the Passover is the Sacrament. So that is another reason not to celebrate the Passover.

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  15. Jeff Spector on April 25, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    “That being said, I would like us to have Easter be the most important Sunday of the year with our best music and no rehashes of conference talks”

    I agree completely, but that one is a hard one to argue about for the other 51 weeks of the year. :)

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  16. brjones on April 25, 2011 at 4:01 PM

    At the risk of sounding overly critical, it’s not hard to see why many non-members think Mormons worship Joseph Smith, considering the fact that most lds congregations, and the church as an organization, pay little special attention to the holiest christian holidays, yet spare no pomp or circumstance in celebrating the 100th birthday of Joseph Smith a few years ago (for the entire calendar year, I might add).

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  17. Jeff Spector on April 25, 2011 at 4:08 PM

    brjones,

    My only rebuttal to your comment is that most non-members have no idea how we worship and only come to the conclusion that we worship Joseph Smith because of the Anti-Mormon material that is out there. Not from any personal knowledge on their part. it’s not clear to me that they would not be able to see past the rote liturgy of many services and see ours as much more relevant and worshipful, in spite of how we might feel about it week to week.

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  18. Heber13 on April 25, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    Maybe the reason it isn’t as emphasized in mormon services is because it wasn’t really celebrated in the United States until the 1870s, and by then the Mormons were in Utah in some isolation developing their own traditions (pioneer day).

    Its not like the rest of Christianity celebrated Easter ever since New Testament days. It was a holiday that morphed from “spring is coming” celebrations, to adopting the celebration of new life and the resurrection.

    Sometimes if it wasn’t something that Joseph Smith revealed, mormons are slow to put emphasis on it or adopt it.

    That’s one idea, anyway.

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  19. brjones on April 25, 2011 at 4:53 PM

    #17 – I don’t disagree with you, Jeff. It’s true that most people’s perceptions of the church are based on faulty and incomplete, if not false, information. That said, I personally think the particular criticism that church members engage in the worship of Joseph Smith is not wholly without merit. I think considering the number of songs, firesides, devotionals, movies, talks, lessons, etc., devoted to Joseph Smith in the church, to say nothing of more sensitive doctrines with respect to his role in mormon teaching, it’s not unreasonable to interpret mormons’ posture toward him as a form of worship. In my life I know I’ve heard appeals to joseph smith’s teachings exponentially more frequently than I ever heard appeals to jesus’ teachings, and not just on contemporary doctrines. I’m not saying mormons do or don’t worship JS, but merely commenting on the reasonableness of ousiders’ view that they do.

    But either way, I would agree with you that others’ opinions on the topic are not really relevant to yours or anyone else’s personal worship.

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  20. brjones on April 25, 2011 at 4:55 PM

    #18 – Yes, it’s highly offensive that Mormons celebrate the wrong objectively meaningless and arbitrarily chosen traditions.

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  21. Heber13 on April 25, 2011 at 5:09 PM

    Its like Mormons are plain belly sneetches that are not invited to the christian weenie roasts because we’ve got no stars on our bellies.

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  22. Jeff Spector on April 25, 2011 at 5:38 PM

    “Sometimes if it wasn’t something that Joseph Smith revealed, Mormons are slow to put emphasis on it or adopt it.”

    There is a good reason for that. Joseph Smith IS the Prophet of this dispensation. And his voice carries more weight. All other prophets testify of his teachings.

    Except, of course, the ones we have disavowed….

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  23. Ryan on April 25, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    “Joseph Smith IS the Prophet of this dispensation. And his voice carries more weight. All other prophets testify of his teachings.

    Except, of course, the ones we have disavowed…”

    Pure lip service. I would suggest they only testify of his teachings when convenient. When it goes against what JS taught/said (such as the prophet will “never lead us astray”), they conveniently ignore those things.

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  24. Gilroy on April 25, 2011 at 11:03 PM

    @ Diane (#3):

    “Every ward I have lived in has had a special service on both Christmas and Easter.”

    I am so jealous of you! I’ve been in wards that had high council Sunday a couple of days before Christmas, or a typical “let’s have the new couple in the ward speak” on the Sunday before Christmas Day. I’ve also had testimony meeting on Easter Sunday. One ward I was in had a tradition of having all graduating high school seniors talk in the spring (usually taking up just two Sundays), and sometimes that meant that Easter sacrament meeting consisted of 5 youth speakers.

    I wish it was almost standard in the Church to reserve every Easter Sunday and Sunday closest to Christmas Day for a special sacrament program with choral numbers, scripture readings, and special talks/messages.

    Consider this – how many people (members and non-members) only attend sacrament meeting on a Christmas or Easter Sunday? What kind of difference could it make for some of those people if they were treated with a beautiful, spiritually uplifting holiday service when they actually made it out on those Sundays? What kind of missionary opportunity are we squandering when people come out for Easter Sunday and get high council speakers?

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  25. Joshua Whelpley on April 26, 2011 at 12:44 AM

    i feel that Easter and Christmas should be huge events for us. I make my own Lenten and Holy Week practices.

    How awesome would it be to have Midnight Sacrament meetings for Christmas? Or at the Temple? I would love to be at the Temple on those days.

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  26. Larry on April 28, 2011 at 6:04 AM

    To Joshua (#25) Great idea about going to the temple–Going to the temple on the afternoon of good friday and the following day is spot on…After all those are the days that mark the beginning of the gospel being preached to the dead…Talk about good timing…

    Perhaps that’s one part of the easter season that should get a little more of our attention and resolve…

    If we believe the church is really lead by a living prophet, then the emphasis the prophet places on things should get our particular attention (because it probably reflects the emphasis the Lord places on things)..

    I think it’s safe to say the INCREASED and Accelerated emphasis on temple work — from family history research to the proliferation of temples throughout the world — is an indicator that the millenium is getting closer and closer…

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  27. Bishop Rick on April 29, 2011 at 12:01 AM

    #1: “But I guess Mormons do not emphasize Good Friday for the same reason we do not emphasize the dying Jesus.”

    The reasoning behind this makes no sense to me.

    #2: “(which includes Thursday’s Gethsemane, Friday’s Cross, Saturday’s Burial, and Sunday’s Resurrection)”

    Actually, Jesus was taken down and buried before sundown on Friday because it was considered breaking the Sabbath to bury him on Saturday.

    #18: “Its not like the rest of Christianity celebrated Easter ever since New Testament days. It was a holiday that morphed from “spring is coming” celebrations, to adopting the celebration of new life and the resurrection.”

    That is completely false. Easter was well established in the early days of the church and has Hebrew roots that are tied to the passover. Easter is in no way a pagan holiday.

    #22: “Joseph Smith IS the Prophet of this dispensation.”

    According to who? That sounds like a mormon myth.

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  28. tmr1 on May 1, 2011 at 7:48 PM

    Living in England, Good Friday is very much observed by everyone here, Mormon or not as it is a public holiday and often on TV, films about the life of Christ are shown.
    However, in the Church of England, the celebration of Easter begins much earlier, with Shrove Tuesday. This sort of gets the ball rolling in the build up to Easter. It is followed by Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and finishes on Easter Sunday, often with special services for each of those.
    I should imagine it is similar in the Catholic church.
    I really like the tradition of observing the build up to Easter and think that it is a nice way to bring to mind the life of Christ around such an important time of the year. It’s also a good way of educating children about the life of Christ.

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  29. 2012 calendar on December 4, 2011 at 11:05 PM

    I used to be recommended this blog via my cousin. I am now not sure whether this put up is written by means of him as no one else understand such special about my problem. You’re amazing! Thanks!

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  30. gail cronkhite on July 29, 2012 at 7:34 AM

    The very reason I am trying to get out of this cult, but having to obtain an attorney to do so. The LDS churches in IL & Montana do NOT celebrate Christmas or Easter at all. The one in Montana is totally unfriendly as I sat on a pew by myself for 3 weeks in a row & no one even spoke to me or sat next to me. The God I serve is Love, I did not receive this in this church.

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