These beautiful woods near the town of Palmyra in the state of New York have come to be known as the sacred grove. It was here on a spring morning much like this in 1820 that Joseph Smith, Jr., a sincere and tender hearted boy of 14, knelt in prayer seeking to know his standing before God and to receive divine direction about the religion he should follow. Joseph had purposely chosen this quiet grove of trees near his home so that he could pray privately and undisturbed. As he began to pray, Joseph was seized upon by a dark destructive power that nearly overcame him. However, this demonic influence fled as a column of light appeared, descending until it enveloped the boy and his surroundings. Standing within the light above him in the air, there were two glorious beings, glorious beyond the power of words to describe. The first of these, God our Heavenly Father, motioned toward the other, the Lord Jesus Christ, and said, Joseph, this is my beloved Son. Hear Him. In this magnificent vision, the Father and the Son commissioned Joseph Smith as the instrument by whom they would reestablish the ancient Church and gospel of Jesus Christ upon the Earth. As a manifestation of the love of God, the significance of this event cannot be overstated. The centuries-long night of spiritual darkness had ended. God again spoke to man. Divine priesthood authority to act in the name of God would follow. The blessings of the Savior's infinite atonement would be accessible, not only to mankind on earth but even to the spirits of the dead as they await the Resurrection.
As a youth I came to this hallowed place one summer night alone. I sought a divine confirmation of the truth of what Joseph said had happened here. Though I prayed earnestly for what seemed a long time, no answer came to me, and I left keenly disappointed. Some weeks later, though, as I sat at home reading and pondering the words of the Book of Mormon, the Holy Ghost filled my soul and gave me the answer I had been seeking. By this spiritual communication, not limited to words, indeed more powerful than words, I was given to know that the Father and the Son had in fact appeared to Joseph Smith here, and that his witness and the witness of all the holy scriptures concerning Jesus Christ are true. Since then, that spiritual witness has been reconfirmed to me many times in various places and circumstances. I found that it was not necessary for me to be here in this sacred grove to receive that testimony through the Holy Spirit, just as it is not necessary for you to come here or any other special place to receive the same spiritual confirmation. Your Heavenly Father knows you and the hopes and desires of your heart wherever you are. As with me, He'll speak to you in His own time and way. And if you're sincere and willing to act on his answers, he will reveal to you what you desire to know. Despite unrelenting persecution, Joseph Smith never yielded in his testimony of the reality of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and what occurred here. His life ended in a martyr's death just 24 years later. His compelling witness of the living God and the resurrected Redeemer now carries the added force of having been sealed with his own blood. From here has gone forth anew this same witness borne by the prophets and apostles of old. And now after the many testimonies which have been given of Him, Joseph Smith later declared, this is the testimony last of all which we give of Him, that He lives. For we saw Him even on the right hand of God and we heard the voice bearing record that He is the only begotten of the Father. As one of his apostles today in humility yet with full conviction, I testify that Jesus of Nazareth, born 2,000 years ago, is the divine Son of God. He was crucified, died and rose again the third day and ascended into heaven to sit down on the right hand of the Father. He is full of grace, mercy and truth, and as many as will believe in him, repent and be baptized in his name, and endure in faith to the end will enjoy peace in this life and salvation in His heavenly kingdom. I attest that Jesus is the holy Messiah who was prophesied to come and who was further prophesied will come again to reign upon the earth. His appearance in this sacred grove and what followed thereafter constitute the beginning preparations for that glorious and much anticipated second advent. I too bear witness that He lives in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.