What a thrill it is to belong to this church. It is exciting, fulfilling and glorious beyond description. In May we look forward to the commemoration of the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood. Can you imagine what would happen if the world believed what we know to be true?
The appearance of John the Baptist to the Prophet Joseph Smith is one of the most significant events in all the history of the world. Imagine these two young men, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, kneeling in prayer near the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. If the world actually believed that John the Baptist had appeared to Joseph and Oliver, it would be forever changed. Consider how that knowledge would change the world. Every honest person of any religion would praise God, weep great tears, and embrace the restored gospel. Every knee would bow and every tongue would confess that Jesus is the Christ and that he has restored his church in this day.
John the Baptist, by the laying on of hands, with authority and power bestowed the Aaronic Priesthood upon these two special young men.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have the experience of the ministering of angels? Think of the sensations that must have pervaded the souls of these young men as holy hands were laid upon their heads, each in turn being endowed with authority. The words of John the Baptist have resounded through the last 150 years. On May 15, 1829, John the Baptist declared in blessing:
“Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness” (D&C 13).
Since that time the Aaronic Priesthood ranks have swelled to 809,000 (as of April 1986). Imagine that number of men and boys endowed with the same priesthood power which Joseph and Oliver received from John the Baptist. Even Joseph, at that stage of his life, would hardly have dared to believe that blessings would flow from him and Oliver to this great number and millions more yet unborn.
It is a marvelous blessing to hold the Aaronic Priesthood. Consider these statements by prophets and Apostles. President Wilford Woodruff said:
“I went out as a priest [on my mission], and my companion as an elder, and we traveled thousands of miles, and had many things manifested to us. I desire to impress upon you the fact that it does not make any difference whether a man is a priest or an apostle, if he magnifies his calling. A priest holds the key of the ministering of angels. Never in my life, as an apostle, as a seventy, or as an elder, have I ever had more the protection of the Lord than while holding the office as a priest. The Lord revealed to me by visions, by revelations, and by the Holy Spirit, many things that lay before me” (G. Homer Durham, comp., The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946, pp. 298, 300).
Elder James E. Talmage, who authored Jesus the Christ, stated:
“I was called and ordained one Sunday morning, … and that afternoon was placed as a sentinel at the door of the house in which the Saints had met for worship. As soon as I had been ordained, a feeling came to me such as I have never been able to fully describe. It seemed scarcely possible, that I, a little boy, could be so honored of God as to be called to the priesthood. I had read of the sons of Aaron and Levi who were chosen for the sacred labors of the Lesser Priesthood, but that I should be called to do part of the service that had been required of them was more than my little mind could grasp. I was both frightened and happy. Then, when I was placed on duty at the door, I forgot that I was but [a] … lad; I felt strong in the thought that I belonged to the Lord, and that he would assist me in whatever was required of me. I could not resist the conviction that other sentinels, stronger by far than I, stood by me though invisible to human eyes.
“The effect of my ordination to the deaconship entered into all the affairs of my boyish life. I am afraid that sometimes I forgot what I was, but I have ever been thankful that ofttimes I did remember, and the recollection always served to make me better. When at play on the school grounds, and perhaps tempted to take unfair advantage in the game, when in the midst of a dispute with a playmate, I would remember, and the thought would be as effective as though spoken aloud—‘I am a deacon; and it is not right that a deacon should act in this way.’ On examination days, when it seemed easy for me to copy some other boys’ work or to ‘crib’ from the book, I would remember again,—‘I am a deacon, and must be honest and true.’ When I saw other boys cheating in play or in school, I would say in my mind, ‘It would be more wicked for me to do that than it is for them because I am a deacon’” (Incidents from the Lives of Our Church Leaders: Course of Studyfor the Quorums of the Priesthood: Deacons, 1914, pp. 135–36).
And President Spencer W. Kimball shared the following in a conference talk to the priesthood of the Church:
“I remember when I was a deacon. (It has been a long time ago, however.) I thought it was a great honor to be a deacon. My father was always considerate of my responsibilities and always permitted me to take the buggy and horse to gather fast offerings. My responsibility included that part of the town in which I lived, but it was quite a long walk to the homes, and a sack of flour or a bottle of fruit or vegetables or bread became quite heavy as it accumulated. So the buggy was very comfortable and functional. We have changed to cash in later days, but it was commodities in my day. It was a very great honor to do this service for my Heavenly Father; and though times have changed, when money is given generally instead of commodities, it is still a great honor to perform this service.
“I am a deacon. I am always proud that I am a deacon. When I see the Apostles march up to the stand in a solemn assembly to bless the sacrament, and others of the General Authorities step up to the sacrament tables to get the bread and the water and humbly pass it to all the people in the assembly and then return their emptied receptacles, I am very proud that I am a deacon, and a teacher, and priest.
“In our special meetings in the temple, when the Brethren of the General Authorities come up to the sacrament table to bless, then pass, the sacrament, then my heart beats more audibly again and I am grateful that I hold the Aaronic Priesthood and have the privilege of taking care of the sacrament.
“Then I remember it was Jesus Christ himself who broke the bread and blessed it and passed it to his Apostles. Then I am proud that I can do likewise” (Ensign, May 1975, p. 79).
The restoration of this great priesthood gives those who hold it more authority to perform ordinances in the kingdom of God than all the leaders of other religious or secular groups. Imagine young men having authority and power to exceed that of kings, presidents, and rulers of nations. And every young man who has been ordained has that authority and the potential blessing of the ministering of angels.
It is no small thing that this church commemorates the restoration of the priesthood. Over the years I have witnessed the commemoration in numerous ways. Many stakes have successful track-and-field meets, usually held the Saturday before the Sunday nearest May 15th.
From the track meet the young men return home, change clothes, and go to the chapel for a banquet where priesthood leaders and guest speakers discuss the power of the holy Aaronic Priesthood. Here, additional young men may be honored for outstanding achievements in a quorum, ward, stake, or school. Special music has been prepared, again with young men participating in groups or possibly performing solos.
Some wards and stakes hold sunrise services where men and boys gather together on a temple lawn, at an historical site, in a beautiful canyon, or in a chapel. Every Aaronic Priesthood bearer and prospective priesthood bearer is invited, provided with transportation, and encouraged to participate. The activities of the Prophet Joseph and Oliver prior to the restoration are recounted in talks. Other subjects such as missionary preparation, purity, charity, service, and priesthood power might be discussed.
Occasionally stakes invite young women to commemorate the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood as they also have an extremely important role. Young women and young Aaronic Priesthood brethren, both dressed in their Sunday best, are a beautiful sight.
Sometimes cottage meetings are held to talk about the Aaronic Priesthood. Generally the bishop leads out, followed by a well-organized program with lovely refreshments in a special setting.
Outings for fathers and sons have been traditional and are always successful. They are better when each ward cooks all the meals together—a cooperative effort produces more camaraderie. Consider gathering around the campfire singing priesthood hymns, having Aaronic Priesthood young men prepared with talks and a guest speaker or member of the bishopric assigned to talk about the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood. Imagine a father with his arms around his sons as they walk off toward their tents, sharing tender feelings about the priesthood, reminiscing about quorum activities.
Other possible events include sports days, beach parties, quorum hikes, visits to Church historical sites, swimming and diving meets, priesthood encampments, courts of honor, work parties and service projects.
Service projects, especially, provide significant activities—men and boys working side by side in a widow’s yard; participating in an activation program; visiting a care center, hospital, or state training school. Service is the very core of the Aaronic Priesthood. The priesthood bestowed upon us is for us to use to bless others.
Every activity listed above should be tied to a priesthood purpose such as strengthening testimony, activating those not attending, or preparing for missions.
As we commemorate the Aaronic Priesthood’s restoration on this marvelous day, May 15th, we give thanks to God for his gentle and tender mercies. Only a few of all the souls who have ever walked the earth have held the priesthood. You are numbered among the elect, the chosen, the ordained of God.
In May, join with us as we commemorate the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood in a special fireside originating from the Tabernacle on Temple Square, where a clarion call will be issued to all Aaronic Priesthood holders. The June 1987 New Era will contain talks from that fireside and articles about the Aaronic Priesthood.
The commemoration of the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood is a most significant event. Make it very, very special in your life.