Samuel returned to the battlefield. When others would have moved on, or basked in the glory of a major battle won, he turned back, not to remain in the past, but to remember. Against all military odds, the Israelites had defeated the Philistines and won back the Arc of the Covenant. It was a battle of faith, and the faithful rose victorious. But Samuel knew the tendency of the Israelites to forget God’s mighty arm, and he probably wanted to build the confidence of his people (confidence is remembered success). He also knew that such a miraculous victory merited this symbol and sacrifice. So Samuel returned to the place and raised a stone, a marker, an altar, to remind everyone: “Heretofore hath the Lord helped us.” He called the memorial Ebenezar, meaning “stone of help” (Even = stone / Haazer = help).
|Even Haazer (Ebenezer)|
Altars have been tokens of holy connection since the beginning of mankind. Adam and Eve built an altar before they even had children. And all their posterity, through generations of time, have done the same. We worship at altars, bless bread and water, endow and seal sacred relationships, Our pulpits allude to altars, and our own beds become altars as we kneel before them.
From Creation until the meridian of time, altars were also used for sacrifices. Literal blood sacrifices. But that all changed with the dawn of Easter, when no more blood was required than had already been spilled in the Garden and on the Cross.
For some devout Christians it is believed that nothing can be sacrificed again, because of the great sacrifice offered by the Savior. We are saved by grace alone. Indeed, we are saved by His Grace.
While it is certainly true that no other sacrifice will ever approach that offering, I am one to believe that we are invited to offer up sacrifices not of blood, but of the spirit upon our own altars as well as consecrated altars in holy places. Christ opens the door that we cannot open for ourselves, but our own two feet carry us through. We must be comfortable living godly lives to be able to be happy where God is.
Tomorrow, Easter Sunday, my sister Ann Marie Mullen and her husband Michael, place a stone upon their altar. They will be giving what we Mormons know as their Farewell address in church, before they leave to serve an eighteen month mission in London, England. Michael is retiring after a distinguished career in the Navy and in private practice as an oral surgeon. He is renowned for his skill and intellect. His hands are artistic and capable. He has also served as stake president for a decade, and a bishop in his local ward. But this is his first mission. He joined the LDS church when he was past the age of younger missionaries and already into his career and obligations with the US Navy. Ann Marie also leaves a career as an audiologist, and church service which includes experience as president of all the women’s organizations in the church. They are a power couple, so to speak, and they could ride the crest of the waves they have created for a long time, clear into the sunset if they so desired. They and Samuel,who led the Israelites in battle, could have chosen to rest on their laurels. But they, too, choose to turn back and make a statement to all mankind and to their Lord that they recognize His help in their lives thus far, and they will sacrifice in the name of their Lord to remind others of His awesome hand.
Truth is, if not for the hand of the Lord, neither Michael nor Ann Marie would be here. They have both received miraculous interventions in their lives that have restored their health against all practical odds. They have survived distresses others cannot comprehend, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit leading them. Their success has been fodder for their propensity to overflow with generosity. There are beautiful people and worthy organizations that would not even exist today if not for their willingness to “give back” what they feel was only theirs as stewards from the Lord.
I quiver with remembrance of the sacred time when Ann Marie sat at Michael’s bedside in the hospital, her head bowed in prayer, then rising with determination to use all her intelligence, tenacity, diplomacy and faith to advocate for him. An aneurysm had formed in his brain, from ear to ear, and no one but his wife believed he would survive it. And yet, here he is, years later, having miraculously returned to his career as a surgeon. His doctors are still stunned. But his wife is not. She did not sit by and weep. It’s not her style. She led even the doctors toward a solution. She herself, a survivor of cancer, knows the miracles that come when a woman puts her shoulder to the wheel and her hand in God’s.
And so, because they survived the battle so far, they place this stone upon their altar. Their “going forward in faith” is a form of “turning back in thanks”. And their altar? While some would think of their beautiful, gracious home in Granite Bay, as a worldly edifice, to me and all those who know them well, it is their altar. It’s there they raised their two devoted children, whose love of their family is only surpassed by their love of God. It is where Michael laid his hands upon the heads of many servants, young and not so young, setting them apart as missionaries. It is where Young Women gathered around their kitchen island and learned to make bread. It’s where Seminary students feasted around their large dining table and learned the Gospel of Christ every weekday morning at 5 am, with Ann Marie teaching and feeding them. It’s where tears were shed, and joy illuminated every window. This is the altar they raised, in their desert place. It’s where their battles were fought and the ones that mattered were won. Now they dedicate it, and leave it for a short while, knowing it will stand as a reminder to anyone who passes, that God showed His hand there. They leave with a song in their hearts: Here I raise my Ebenezer. Their exit is a polish upon the stones of that altar.
Ann Marie and Michael aka Elder and Sister Mullen: You have already left the figurative shore. You are walking into the water, like the Israelites at the River Jordan, trusting God will part the river and lead you safely through.
Soon, on the other side…across the pond…you can raise this marker:
|Jehovah Jireh (The Lord will provide)|
Ebenezer Jehovah Jireh: “”Hitherto hath The Lord helped us; and for all coming need, The Lord will provide.
God speed, daughter of my mother and brother of my heart!
During the season of Lent I make the personal commitment to write every day. I’ve done this for the past eight years, as a token of devotion and thanks to the Lord for giving me a brain that works (usually). I publish these writings here on my blog, unedited and splattered like wet paint, as a way to share them and to keep them for myself and for my posterity. This year I have decided to ruminate on thoughts, ideas, habits and miscellaneous personal practices I would like to put in a figurative HOPE CHEST to take with me into the rest of my life and the life beyond. Besides that, there are bits of advice I would like to tuck into the HOPE CHESTS of my kids and grandkids.