These six chapters are among the shortest in the Book of Mormon. These really tiny little nuggets of chapters weren’t even going to be written. Moroni had finished what I imagine and to be a monumental task to summarize the history of the people of Jared, thinking he was finished with the record, “but I have not yet perished” (Moroni 1:1).
Moroni was a general in the civil wars described in the final records recorded by his father Mormon. His people had been wiped out or absorbed. Moroni was among the lone survivors. The Lamanites were on a cultural genocidal rampage “and because of their hatred they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ. And I, Moroni will not deny the Christ; (Moroni 1:2).
What’s interesting here, even though Mormon described the civil wars to be between the Lamanites and Nephites, it seems here that the Christian identity and not the Nephite identity was at the heart of the conflict. This makes sense given that in 4 Nephi, the Lamanite and Nephite populations had dissolved into a single group for two hundred years – intermixing and inter-marrying, organized around Christian principles after Jesus visit. Eventually, class conflict, pride, and tribalism produced the civil wars that ended what’s identified as the Nephite population but I question that framing.
Some speculation here – the Nephites were likely those who remained Christian, not necessarily those literal descendants from Nephi, while others had fallen out of the Christian tradition taken on the older Lamanite tribal identities. The Nephites ended up no more righteous than the Lamanites but likely continued to maintain their Christian identities, using it as a marker and justification for their own self regard in ways that are counter to the spirit of what Christianity is supposed to be doing.
Moroni was among the sole survivors who tried to live the spirit of the Christian message while remaining loyal to the culturally identifying group he was born into. He could tried to assimilate, repudiating his Christian/Nephite identity, but he chose to remain true to his covenants and so wandered in isolation.
In this desperate state, expecting to be captured and killed, but finding some additional and unexpected time and space, he decided to write down some of what he felt were among the most precious truths that would someday, he hoped, be of benefit to the descendants of those people who would hunt him down and murder him if given the chance. What are Moroni’s most precious truths?
In the next few chapters, Moroni details the structures of the functioning church Jesus had set up 400 years earlier. In chapter 2, he describes the manner in which Jesus gave the disciples power to invoke the Holy Ghost through the laying hands upon heads. In chapter three, he describes the manner of ordaining priests and teachers who are called “to preach repentance and remission of sins through Jesus Christ, by the endurance of faith on his name to the end.” Moroni 3:3. Once again, the core purpose of a Christian church is to guide the individual into a lifetime of repentance, faith, and service to others. That’s it. That’s the gospel.
In Chapters 4 and 5 Moroni gives us the sacramental prayers word for word. Finally (at least for this Sunday school lesson, Moroni continues on for four additional chapters), in Chapter 6, Moroni describes the purpose of weekly church.
And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls. And they did meet together oft to partake of the bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus.Moroni 6:5-6
These weekly meetings, the regular habits we build up, to come together, to practice our virtues. To recommit each week to really think of the life of Jesus, a life of consecrated service and sacrifice. Moroni having survived a brutal civil war, wandering alone, cutoff from community, holding onto his faith, reminds us how precious these simple things are, the weekly meetings that we too often take for granted, that become routine events in our lives, that we sit through habitually. We need to hold onto them with greater care and attentiveness, allowing the regular rituals to work deeper into our hearts, to purify our souls and put us in greater concern and care for others. If that’s not happening, church isn’t happening.