As recorded in the Old Testament, Jehovah promised the children of Israel that as they carried the ark of the covenant—the most sacred of their religious symbols—they would cross the River Jordan on dry land.
Most noteworthy in this episode, said Elder David A. Bednar, is that the “water did not part until their feet were wet.”
The moment recorded in Joshua 3 is one of those “great lessons of the past” that can be instructive to Latter-day Saints today facing the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives, crippled the world economy, and isolated world populations, said the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
In response to the coronavirus crisis, Church leaders have made many adaptations in order to be part of the solution to the pandemic—including closing temples across the globe.
The temple “is a point of intersection between heaven and earth,” Elder Bednar said, adding that a person’s experiences in the temple help him or her see far beyond mortality.
Still, during this time when temple work is not being performed, blessings are readily available to Latter-day Saints, he said. Like the children of Israel who carried the ark of the covenant into the River Jordan knowing the waters would part, members must press forward with fortitude, courage, and the expectation that miracles will follow.
“If we will exercise the faith to press forward, then in the Lord’s way, and according to His timing, the water will part.”
Elder Bednar, chairman of the Church’s Temple and Family History Executive Council, spoke to the Church News via a videoconference call weeks after the First Presidency issued a statement on March 25, 2020, suspending temple work worldwide in response to the coronavirus crisis.
During this season of closed temples, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can focus on “what we learn and the Spirit that we feel in the temple,” said Elder Bednar.
“Obviously, the Spirit is not available only in the house of the Lord,” he said. “If we are honoring our covenants, then we can have that same Spirit with us always.”
Without the perspective of the gospel, many of the hardships of life “would be unbearable,” said Elder Bednar. “But because we can recognize the scope of eternity and see beyond the grave, we can ‘fresh courage take’ and continue to press forward.”
The covenants and ordinances administered in the holy temples are a great source of hope because they “focus on the Savior, His mission, and what He has made possible for us.” No one would choose to experience the COVID-19 pandemic, “but it is upon us.”
“With the eternal perspective that the restored gospel provides and the grace that comes from the Savior’s Atonement, we can learn lessons from the adversity of mortality that prepare us for the blessings of eternity,” he said. “We have to pray. We have to seek. We have to ask. We have to have eyes to see and ears to hear. But we can be blessed in remarkable ways to learn lessons that will bless us now and forever.”
Elder Bednar said one purpose of the temple is “to observe the patterns and learn the principles that should be evident in our own homes.”
It is true, he said, that Latter-day Saints go to the temple and have magnificent spiritual experiences. “But more importantly, we should return to our homes from the temple and bring with us what we have learned and implement and apply those teachings. There can be an equivalent spiritual power in our own homes as we strive to remember the principles and patterns taught in the temple and live them.”
Quoting Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Bednar said that as Latter-day Saints “pass through our holy temples,” they must also “let the holy temples pass through them” (“Settle This in Your Hearts,” Ensign, Nov. 1992).
“In a season when we have temporarily suspended temples’ operations, it is a choice opportunity to invite the covenants and ordinances to pass through us,” he said. “The lessons learned in our previous temple experiences are not recalled only when we are in the temple.”
Those teachings “are in our minds, hopefully in our hearts. And we can have access to those learnings and those memories anytime.”
Elder Bednar said all individuals have times when “prayers become more earnest and more meaningful.” Often, members petition the Lord in prayer in the temple.
“That is a powerful experience,” he said. “But the Lord is aware of our circumstances and our situations. And He will not give any less credence to an earnest sincere prayer offered in a family room or kneeling at the side of a bed for this period of time. He will look on us with great mercy and great compassion.”
That includes anyone wanting to enter the temple to receive living ordinances—including temple weddings and sealings.
“I cannot imagine the sense of disappointment and even heartache,” Elder Bednar said. “But the day will come. This is a temporary interruption.”
Those whose temple weddings have been disrupted will, through their own spiritual preparation and prayer, know how to proceed, he said. “Every individual and each couple can know what needs to be done,” he said. “They should be patient and wait upon the Lord. And He will whisper to them by the power of His Spirit in simple ways, and they will know what to do.”
Every youth and adult member of the Church should have a current temple recommend during this time, he added.
“The importance of having a temple recommend is not just an operational element of being a member of the Savior’s restored Church,” he said.
President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) called the temple “the great symbol of [our] membership” because the temple is “the supernal setting for [our] most sacred covenants” (“The Great Symbol of Our Membership,” Ensign, Oct. 1994).
Elder Bednar said, “We should always be worthy of and carry with us a valid temple recommend.”
This season of suspended operations can help members with ready access to temples appreciate those Latter-day Saints who ride on buses or boats for days to reach the temple. Some faithful members may visit a temple only once or twice in their lives.
“We would not choose this present set of circumstances,” he said. “But given that they are upon us, it will help us have eyes to see things we have never seen before and ears to hear things that we have never heard before. Our appreciation should be greatly increased because often those of us who live close to temples can become casual and take them for granted.”
This is a season when “we can focus on having the blessings of temple covenants and ordinances pass through us,” he emphasized.
Members can focus on and ponder covenants related to obedience, sacrifice, consecration, the spirit of the gospel, and moral purity. “That powerful spirit is not restricted to the house of the Lord. If we are honoring the covenants, then we can have that same spirit with us always.”
Elder Bednar added that temples “are nourished by names.” He said, “For people who live very fast-paced and hectic lives, this is a marvelous opportunity to learn more about family history research, indexing, and how to prepare many, many names for the day when the temple doors will open again. So this is a chance to increase our understanding of family history work—and to do more of that sacred work.”
Elder Bednar said the Lord has prepared the Church for times like this. “No unhallowed hand can stop this work from progressing, and no pandemic will stop this work from progressing either,” he said. “In the midst of all of the challenges we face now dealing with this virus, the work goes forward.”
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he said, once compared the Church to “a great caravan.” Despite difficult, rough terrain and rivers to cross, “the caravan moves on” (“The Caravan Moves On,” Ensign, Nov. 1984).
Elder Bednar added: “Are there temporary setbacks? Yes. Is there discouragement and disappointment? Yes. But ‘the caravan moves on.’”
The world will get through this pandemic, he said.
“We do not know how long it will take, but we will overcome. And we may not resume our previous pattern of life exactly as we knew it, but many of those adaptations and changes will be very positive. The kingdom of God continues to move forward, and especially in the temples.”
Since becoming the 17th President of the Church, President Russell M. Nelson has emphasized that temple ordinances and covenants are the focus of all that Latter-day Saints do in coming unto Christ, said Elder Bednar.
President Nelson announced at the conclusion of general conference in April that the Church will build eight new temples in nations across the globe. With these announcements, the Church has 168 dedicated temples, with 15 under construction and another 42 announced.
Recalling the invitation for all Latter-day Saints to hold an active temple recommend, pray, and remember their temple covenants, Elder Bednar promised Church members that if they press forward with faith, the “waters will part” and temple work for both the living and the dead will resume.
“More temples will be announced in future conferences,” he said. “The caravan moves on.”