A few days after I came home from Utah, I got together with a friend who is not Mormon. She knows that my husband and I try to date regularly, and she asked me, “Have you been on any dates lately?” I thought for a moment.
“Well, yeah, actually we went on a date while we were in Utah. My husband’s younger sister and her fiance watched the kids while the married couples went to the temple.”
“What do you do at the temple?” she asked.
“Uh, we did temple sealings, which are . . . vicarious marriages . . . for dead people.” The look on her face was one of shock. She was so taken aback, I had no idea what to say. I felt like the little boy in The Sixth Sense when he whispers to Bruce Willis, “I see dead people.” This friend has known me for five years, and we’ve talked about religion many times. Apparently I never mentioned to her before that, from time to time, I get married for dead people.
If you too are uninformed about this Mormon practice, let me inform you:
We Latter-day Saints participate in ceremonies that are a physcial expression of the promises we make to God and the blessings He gives us in return. We call the ceremonies “ordinances.” One of these ordinances is baptism, which is a symbol of having one’s sins washed away and beginning a new life as a follower of Jesus. Our baptisms are always followed by confirmation, which is a symbol of receiving the Holy Ghost. These ordinances probably don’t seem strange to you because most Christians do something similar. But we Latter-day Saints don’t stop at baptism. Baptism is only the gateway into God’s kingdom; in order to make it all the way back to God Himself, there is more to be done.
This is where the temple comes in. When we have reached adulthood, if we are living a life in accordance with the teachings of our church, we can go to the temple and receive more ordinances. The sealing ordinance is the last of these. It’s basically a marriage ceremony performed by someone who has priesthood authority to “seal” the marriage to endure beyond death. We also call this “eternal marriage.”
Now, you may be asking, what does this have to do with dead people? Jesus said that no one can enter his kingdom without having been baptized. This is a disconcerting notion when you consider that billions of people around the world die without ever having been baptized, many of them knowing nothing about Christianity. A passage in the New Testament mentions people being baptized for the dead, and Joseph Smith, the founder of our church, introduced his followers to the practice. In the temple, we perform baptisms for the dead, and we perform the other temple ordinances for dead people too. First someone finds the names of deceased ancestors and brings those names to the temple. Then someone can receive the temple ordinances on behalf of the deceased person The idea is that the dead person can decide if he or she wants to accept those ordinances, much like we living people must decide if we want to accept what Jesus did for us when he atoned for our sins.
If you are thinking that Mormonism is strange, you are certainly right. But I have learned that being strange isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For example, my date night at the temple was lovely. My husband and I, his parents, sister and brother-in-law, loaded up into our van and drove to the newly constructed Draper Temple. We all wore church attire–suits for the men, dresses for the ladies. Once inside the temple, we met up with my husband’s brother and his wife and went into changing rooms to put on our ceremonial temple clothing. After we were dressed, a temple worker led us to a sealing room where a sealer was waiting for us–a cute, old Hispanic man.
As the exterior suggests, the inside is bright and beautiful. The atmosphere inside the temple is unlike anywhere else I’ve been, but the place most like it is probably a library. It’s organized and industrious, and everyone whispers.
We stayed for about an hour in the sealing room, each couple taking a turn kneeling across the altar as stand-ins for some other couple that lived a long time ago. Dressed in the same clothes I wore on my wedding day and hearing the same words, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own marriage. When it wasn’t our turn, my husband and I sat quietly on a sofa, watching the others. The sun streamed through the windows, words about eternity and the names of dead people rolled off a Spanish tongue, and I tried to fathom what it all means. It was a beautiful hiatus from the rush and clamour of visiting relatives. It was a beautiful evening.