Today is the Jewish holiday Shemini Atzeret, which falls the day after the seven-day festival of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. The word shemini (שמיני) means eighth, and atzeret (עצרת) is a “solemn assembly.” The Lord commanded ancient Israel twice to observe this day:
- “Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD: on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD: it is a solemn assembly; and ye shall do no servile work therein” (Leviticus 23:36).
- “On the eighth day ye shall have a solemn assembly: ye shall do no servile work therein” (Numbers 29:35).
After Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, the people celebrated for seven days, “and in the eighth day they made a solemn assembly” (2 Chronicles 7:9), following the pattern prescribed by the law.
A solemn assembly is a sacred gathering which requires an elevated sense of spirituality from its participants.
At the end of King Benjamin’s reign, he commanded his people to gather at the temple. They brought offerings to the Lord and sat in tents, just as the ancient Israelites would have done to celebrate Sukkot. Benjamin urged them to pay particular attention to his words that day. (Mosiah 2:1-9).
Perhaps because of their preparation, the people were particularly receptive to Benjamin’s words on that occasion. They fell to the earth, prayed for mercy, and received a remission of their sins (Mosiah 4:1-3). They subsequently covenanted to obey the commandments of God until the end of their lives (Mosiah 5:1-5). This event profoundly affected their lives. For several years, they lived in continual peace, and when contention finally arose among them, Mormon points out that it was initiated by people who had been too young to understand Benjamin’s words. (See Mosiah 6:7, 26:1.)
In December 1832, the Lord instructed church members in Kirtland, Ohio to call a solemn assembly and establish a house of prayer (Doctrine and Covenants 88:70, 117, 119). Six months later, He chastised them for failing to act promptly on those commandments.
Ye have not considered the great commandment in all things, that I have given unto you concerning the building of mine house;…
I gave unto you a commandment that you should call your solemn assembly, that your fastings and your mourning might come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth,Doctrine and Covenants 95:3, 7
In March 1836, about 1,000 people gathered in the newly completed temple. As Joseph Smith offered the dedicatory prayer, He alluded to the commandment God had given them more than three years earlier, and he asked for God’s help as they sought to obey that command:
Holy Father, we ask thee to assist us, thy people, with thy grace, in calling our solemn assembly, that it may be done to thine honor and to thy divine acceptance;Doctrine and Covenants 109:10
In that meeting, church members sang the hymn “The Spirit of God,” which had been composed specifically for that occasion. The third verse addresses the importance of sacred gatherings for our spiritual growth:
We’ll call in our solemn assemblies in spirit,
To spread forth the kingdom of heaven abroad,
That we through our faith may begin to inherit
The visions and blessings and glories of God.Hymns, 2
Today in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemn assemblies are called for significant events, including the dedication of a temple or the sustaining of a new prophet. In the April 2020 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson convened a solemn assembly in which members of the Church around the world participated in a Hosanna Shout to express gratitude to God. (See “Opening Message,” General Conference, April 2020.)
As I prepare for general conference this weekend, I will strive to be as ready as the ancient Israelites on Shemini Atzeret, as the people of King Benjamin during his final sermon, and as church members who attended the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. Even though this conference has not been formally designated as a solemn assembly, it can be a sacred experience for me if I participate in an attitude of solemnity.