Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 15:7-10, 17-18

7 And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.

8 And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?

9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.

10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.

17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.

18 In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

I found this passage enchanting to read, but confounding to understand. Abram seeks for some sort of sign that God’s promises will be fulfilled, and as an answer he is led through a strange ritual. Abram splits each creature in two, except for the birds, and lays their halves next to each other. Then, after a moment of darkness and foretelling that we’ll examine tomorrow, God responds with a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passing between each half of the animals. Accompanying this sight are the words of God, reiterating the promise that He will give all this land to Abram. A captivating image, to be sure, but what to make of it?

Other scholars have given an interpretation of these scenes that I find very compelling. They suggest that dividing the animals in two and having the furnace and lamp pass between them is a way of God making a solemn pledge. It is as if He is saying “so may my body be cleaved in two if I do not keep this word.” Consider how this idea is echoed by the statements of God in Jeremiah 34:18. Or it could be seen as “I will do whatever it takes to fulfill this promise, even to the breaking of my body.” Of course that notion is later reflected in Jesus Christ coming and literally letting his body be broken to keep the promises that God had made to all of mankind.

And there is also the symbolism of the smoke and the flame that God sends between the severed pieces. What was immediately called to my mind was the pillar of fire and the cloud that guided Israel through the wilderness.

In any case, it seems that these verses are meant to describe a solemn ritual, with a solemn commitment made by God. These aren’t just words anymore, He is binding Himself to the fulfillment of them. But, given the seriousness of the situation, God frankly admits that Abram that his children will face all manner of affliction before and after receiving the fulfillment of these promises. We’ll dive into that tomorrow.

Solemnity and Joy- Summary

Recently I considered the different rituals we observe in life, and the different attitudes we have towards them. We have cheerful birthday parties and solemn sacraments, happy chatting around the newborn baby and soft condolences in the funeral hall, times where we are expected to be joyful and times where we are expected to be solemn.
And as I thought about these different moments I had a sensation that this was good. It seemed right to me that some times were reserved for solemnity and some for joy. I wanted to explore that concept further, though, and I began this study to examine the correct application of each expression. I also wanted to consider the incorrect application of each expression, too.
At the end I gained a greater vision of what gospel life is supposed to look like. I saw how a disciple who has a full appreciation of all the different walks of life would feel moved by them in a natural and healthy way. Here are a few of the main takeaways I had from this study.

The Value of Joy

We are meant to experience joy. We are meant to feel truly and deeply happy. Angels came to declare “glad tidings,” Israelites were commanded to have feasts and celebrations, and Jesus encouraged his disciples to glory in his presence. We do not have to shy away from our genuine happiness.
In fact, the word gospel means the “good news.” It is brought to cheer us from the otherwise certain doom of our fallen world. It gives us hope in a better life. It is an expression of love from a Father who wants to save us. It empowers us to become a better, truer version of ourselves.
What sort of response could be appropriate for all of this except joy? Those that have the realities of these messages in their hearts have a cheerfulness as their natural resting state. Though they may still experience sorrows, though at times they may be caught in waves of grief, beneath it all is a resting state of gladness.
Numbers 10:10- Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the Lord your God.
Luke 2:10-11- And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

The Value of Solemnity

But we are also meant to have solemn moments. Just because all challenges will end in victory does not mean that the pain before that triumph is negligible. It really does hurt, and that really does matter. Jesus knew that Lazarus was going to rise from the tomb, but that did not make him impervious to the pain of temporary loss. He wept.
And while we are told God will “wipe away our tears,” it is not as though our sorrows are cheaply swept under the rug. They are significant, and they are only healed by a significant process. The overcoming of our death and sorrow comes at great cost. It comes through a Savior that endured all of those hurtful moments in his own body and spirit so that he could overcome them and know how to cater to us in them.
And that brings us to the other great reason for solemnity: sacred reverence for what great deed has been done for us. Of course we often feel a sadness when we observe the sacrifice of Jesus, but even deeper than that is our quiet awe for it. We feel the great gravity of it, and we wish to show it proper respect.
John 11:34-36- And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
Alma 7:11-12- And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

The Fulness of Life

So life has joy. It has a happy ending and many sweet moments along the way. We can show our joy without shame. But also we are meant to embrace the sad and somber moments that give life its gravity. Between our joys are times to pause, reflect, and even shed a tear.
There are inappropriate times for a joke and there are hypocritical displays of somberness. We should not try to make light of heavy matters, nor should we try to make heavy of light matters. The full-hearted disciple is perfectly capable of experiencing the full spectrum of emotion.
Because, after all, coming to Christ is meant to bring us to a life that is full and rich. The soul is not to merely meant to be expanded in a single direction, as we learn in Ephesians 3 it is meant to feel “breadth, and length, and depth, and height.” Thus if there is a sector of life that we are denying to ourselves, then we are not embracing the completeness that God intended. All these different slices of life are part of the whole. God has always meant for us to have the whole, but we cannot receive it without embracing the separate parts.
John 10:10- The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
Ephesians 3:17-19- That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

Solemnity and Joy- Matthew 6:16-18

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

COMMENTARY

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance
Yesterday I looked at examples of inappropriate levity, and today we consider inappropriate solemnity. Already in this study we have considered Jesus approving Mary and his disciples for joying in his presence, even though there were others that were calling for a more serious attitude.
But in today’s verses Jesus discusses another situation. He mentions a time when it is totally appropriate to be solemn, such as when fasting, but how it is hypocritical to exaggerate one’s solemn demeanor for everyone else to see. The fact is some of us get the mentality that being somber is better than being happy, so we strive to show as much somberness as we possibly can.
I’m sure all of us can recall times that we or others became extremely pious, not for God’s sake, but for the sake of our fellow worshippers. We wanted their admiration, we wanted them to appreciate how serious we were in the cause of right. “Holier than thou” moments are not the only example of this, either. Even outside of religious circles we often bemoan how busy we are with so much duty and work and responsibility, looking for a pat on the back for carrying so much burden. In our society it is often seen as a virtue to be overworked and overstressed.
I’ve been guilty of these exaggerated displays of solemnity myself. As a general rule, I try remind myself that if I am sad, it is okay to be sad, and if I am solemn, it is okay to be solemn, and if someone asks me about these troubles I can speak of them honestly…..But, if I am exaggerating my outward expression of sadness and solemnity for the express purpose of gaining the attention of others, then I am passive aggressive, and I am treating emotions as a currency, something we don’t ever want to do.

Solemnity and Joy- Exodus 3:2, 4-5

And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.

COMMENTARY

Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground
Before Moses could fully approach the Lord he was instructed to remove his footwear. It was as if God was saying “this place is very delicate, so tread lightly!” Moses needed to show his respect by setting aside that which was callous and hard, and approach with caution instead.
This reminds me of times that I have opened up the most inner sections of my heart to God or another person. “This is a very delicate place we’re going to now, so please tread lightly!” In these moments a soft voice and carefully chosen words make all the difference.
Think also of how delicate God’s spirit is when we commune with it. Anything callous or hard will offend it away and we must take care to handle it gently.
Thus one definition for “solemn moments” would be times that call for being “delicate,” “gentle,” or “careful.”

Solemnity and Joy- Doctrine and Covenants 20:75-77

It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus;
And the elder or priest shall administer it; and after this manner shall he administer it—he shall kneel with the church and call upon the Father in solemn prayer, saying:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

COMMENTARY

He shall kneel with the church and call upon the Father in solemn prayer
Yesterday I mentioned Yom Kippur, a solemn day in ancient Israel with rituals that symbolized the coming sacrifice of Jesus. Now we are on the other side of that sacrifice, and we still have rituals that point backward to it.
One of those rituals is, of course, the Eucharist or sacrament. And notice in this verse how this practice calls for being “solemn.” Though different denominations may vary in the specific details of how they carry out their sacrament, they generally maintain this same solemn demeanor, due to the respect they wish to show for the sacred event they remind us of.

That they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son
And there is a second reason for solemnity in this moment. In addition to reverently remembering what has happened, we see in the words of this prayer an invitation to make a solemn commitment. All those that partake are able to renew a covenant to God to keep Christ’s sacrifice in their mind and live in a way that follows his example.
And we are best able to make a serious commitment when we are of a calm and quiet mind. Consider how it is the same with weddings. Yes those are known for their gaiety, but then everything becomes very quiet and still when the moment comes for bride and groom to make their sincere pledge to one another. It is still a happy moment, of course, but it is a moment of happy solemnity. So, too, we should be of a sober and steady mind when we make our pledges to God.

Solemnity and Joy- Numbers 10:10, Hosea 2:11

Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the Lord your God.

I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.

COMMENTARY

Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days ye shall blow with the trumpets
Her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts
When we talk about solemn occasions what first comes to mind might be a sad event, such as a funeral or a departure. And certainly those moments do call for solemnness, but they are not the only ones.
These verses make mention of Israel’s “solemn days,” and how they were part of their feasts, festivals, annual observations, and even celebrations. One of their “solemn days” was Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. On this day two goats were brought to the priest. One of them was set free, while the other had the sins of the people placed upon it. Then the scapegoat was sacrificed, making an atonement was made for the peoples’ wrongs.
Obviously this was all symbolic of Christ’s future sacrifice, which is certainly a good and a glad thing for all of us…but also something that we hold in reverent respect due to the great price he paid.
Thus we see, there is nothing paradoxical about the idea of a good solemnity. Yes, solemn can mean a type of sadness, but it can also mean being respectful, reverential, and in awe.

Solemnity and Joy- Question

Recently I was considering the role of solemnity in the gospel. In many spiritual rituals there is an expectation for a quiet, reverent demeanor. There are situations in life that bring with them a deep gravity. But at the same time there isn’t anything inherently wrong with mirth or laughter either. We are told that the gospel is a message of gladness and it is meant to be a delight to us.

Sometimes it is right to be very quiet and still and other times it is right to dance and laugh. Sometimes we should be serious and sometimes we should celebrate. With this study I want to examine the interplay of these two emotions in the gospel.

I will look at examples of both of these emotions in the scriptures, and the contexts that called for them. I will also consider situations where each would be inappropriate and why. I will be asking myself what the underlying purpose of solemnity is and what the core function of joy is.

In the meantime, have you ever had a situation that you felt was too sacred for loud words and raucous laughter? Why do you suppose that sort of behavior would have tainted the mood? What memories do you have of pure joy? Why was it good in those moments to laugh and be lighthearted?