For the lds.org lesson plan, click here.
This lesson deals with an important subject matter but one that can get kind of personal if people feel moved upon to share their griefs and sorrows or their sins and how the Atonement helped them overcome those. Impress upon the class the necessity of honoring the confidences of their classmates by not sharing outside the class any personal stories that their classmates share. Also impress upon the class that the sharing of personal stories is optional.
Introduce the Doctrine
This section starts out with a thought exercise asking the class members how they would respond if a friend asks them what the Atonement of Jesus Christ is. This is an excellent introduction because the ability to explain a principle aids in understanding it. Especially if you live in a primarily non-LDS community, it’s also important to understand the ways in which we use terminology that is different from our neighbors to explain similar concepts. This is also an important thing to understand to help prepare them for missionary service in the future. While many other Christian churches don’t use the term “Atonement”, they still believe in the concept. It would be useful to explain to them that other believers in Christ may refer to things like “suffering on the cross”, “the passion”, “the grace of God”, etc. to encompass what we call “the Atonement”.
This quote from Joseph Smith explains the centrality of the Atonement to our belief system. “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (History of the Church, 3:30)
The New Testament reminds us that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19:10) Anyone who has a testimony of Jesus is a prophet, so the testimonies of class members about Jesus constitute part of these fundamental principles of our religion.
In addition to the learning activities presented in the lesson outline, it’s important to address why the Atonement is necessary. We live in a fallen world, where we are subject to sin, death, and sorrow. We cannot save ourselves, so Jesus came to do what we can’t do. The Atonement is for our sins, but it’s also for the effects of the sins that others have committed against us.
In her book Lighten Up, Chieko Okazaki gave a poignant description of the Atonement. (Note that some of the content in this quote deals with mature issues. You may want to cut out parts of it for Beehives or Mia Maids, but it’s probably appropriate in its entirety for Laurels.)
“Well, my dear sisters, the gospel is the good news that can free us from guilt. We know that Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It’s our faith that he experienced everything- absolutely everything. Sometimes we don’t think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means he knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer- how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced Napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism.
Let me go further. There is nothing you have experienced as a woman that he does not also know and recognize. On a profound level, he understands the hunger to hold your baby that sustains you through pregnancy. He understands both the physical pain of giving birth and the immense joy. He knows about PMS and cramps and menopause. He understands about rape and infertility and abortion. His last recorded words to his disciples were, “And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) He understands your mother-pain when your five-year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth-grader, when your daughter calls to say that the new baby has Down syndrome. He knows your mother-rage when a trusted babysitter sexually abuses your two-year-old, when someone gives your thirteen-year-old drugs, when someone seduces your seventeen-year-old. He knows the pain you live with when you come home to a quiet apartment where the only children are visitors, when you hear that your former husband and his new wife were sealed in the temple last week, when your fiftieth wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years. He knows all that. He’s been there. He’s been lower than all that. He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief.
Live What We Are Learning
In addition to the examples in the lesson outline, a discussion of the sacrament would fit in nicely here. Each Sunday, we have the opportunity to physically take the Atonement and make it a part of ourselves by eating the bread in remembrance of the body of Jesus and drinking the water in remembrance of the blood of Jesus. As we partake of the sacrament, we are incorporating the wondrous sacrifice of our Lord into our very souls.
If moved upon to do so, share your testimony of the Atonement and/or invite class members to share their testimonies of the Atonement.