Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Making the Sacrament More Sacred

Why we Need to Understand the Whys and the Wherefores

The words we use matter.  We, as Mormons, often tend to use our own special definitions for gospel terms without always giving much thought to the reasons for using those specific terms, or to the particular meanings which may be contained in those terms.  Sometimes we as members even participate in certain church activities without giving much thought to the reasons why we are doing them.  This is especially true of the sacrament, which is one of our most sacred ordinances, and yet we tend to take it for granted because we observe it almost every week.

“The ordinance of the sacrament has been called “one of the most holy and sacred ordinances in the Church.” It needs to become more holy and sacred to each of us” (Hamula, 2014).

“Since we can partake of the sacrament every week, many take the ordinance for granted or fail to prepare properly for it each time. External disturbances may prevent complete concentration on spiritual things during the sacrament. Some do not understand the true nature of the sacrament.

Almost all Latter-day Saints could better use the ordinance of the sacrament to help purge their souls in preparation for eternal life. President David O. McKay stated: “The partaking of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is one of the most sacred ordinances of the Church of Jesus Christ. Associated with it are principles fundamental in character building and essential to man’s advancement and exaltation in the kingdom of God. Too few communicants attach to this simple though sublime rite the importance and significance that it merits. Unfortunately, the form of worship is frequently an outward compliance without the true soul acknowledgment of its deep spiritual significance”” (Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual, 2011, 71).

To the end that we might more fully appreciate and understand the deep significance of one of the most important parts of our worship, it might be helpful to break the term “the sacrament” down to examine its roots and to glimpse its full meaning.

“The word  [sacrament] originally meant “a result of consecration” or “a means of consecrating, dedicating, or securing by a religious sanction” (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “sacrament”). Sacrament eventually came to designate a sacred religious observance” (Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual, 2011, 71).

“The word sacrament comes from two Latin stems: sacr meaning “sacred,” and ment meaning “mind.” It implies sacred thoughts of the mind. Even more compelling is the Latin word sacramentum, which literally means “oath or solemn obligation.” Partaking of the sacrament might therefore be thought of as a renewal by oath of the covenant previously made in the waters of baptism. It is a sacred mental moment, including (1) a silent oath manifested by the use of one’s hand, symbolic of the individual’s covenant, and (2) the use of bread and water, symbolic of the great atoning sacrifice of the Savior of the world” (Nelson, 1983).

The sacrament is a sacred ordinance, whereby we renew sacred covenants which we have made with God, but what is an ordinance, and what is a covenant?

“An ordinance is a sacred ceremony or rite that shows that we have entered into a covenant with God.  God has always required His children to make covenants.  A covenant is a binding and solemn agreement between God and man.  God promises to bless us and we promise to obey Him.  God sets the terms of gospel covenants, which we either accept or reject.  Keeping covenants brings blessings in this life and exaltation in the life to come.”  (Preach My Gospel, 63)

Although it is commonly referred to in the church as “the sacrament,” the ordinance of the sacrament is more properly called by its complete designation, “the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper” (Mckay, 1953, p. 71).  (See also Perry, 2011, and Smith, 1939, p. 202).  This helps to distinguish it from the sacrament of baptism, or the sacrament of marriage.

In Christian parlance, outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is common to hear sacred observances such as baptism, marriage, and last rites all referred to as sacraments.  This can cause some confusion for Mormons, because we tend to use the term “the sacrament” to refer exclusively to the sacrament of the Lord ’s Supper or, as it is often called in other churches: holy communion, or the Eucharist.

The use of the term “sacrament” to refer broadly to a number of rites and ordinances may seem somewhat foreign to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; however, it is perfectly appropriate to refer to rites such as marriage or baptism as sacraments, because, as was pointed out earlier, the word sacrament is intended to denote any sacred “oath or solemn obligation” (Nelson, 1983).  When we are sealed in the temple, or when we are baptized, we make solemn covenants to act a certain way, and to do specific things, and when we partake of the sacrament we renew the same covenants we made at baptism.  Therefore, by definition, all of these things qualify as “sacraments.”

“For our purpose here today, a sacrament could be any one of a number of gestures or acts or ordinances that unite us with God and his limitless powers. We are imperfect and mortal; he is perfect and immortal. But from time to time--indeed, as often as is possible and appropriate--we find ways and go to places and create circumstances where we can unite symbolically with him, and in so doing gain access to his power. Those special moments of union with God are sacramental moments--such as kneeling at a marriage altar, or blessing a newborn baby, or partaking of the emblems of the Lord's supper. This latter ordinance is the one we in the Church have come to associate most traditionally with the word sacrament, though it is technically only one of many such moments when we formally take the hand of God and feel his divine power.” (Jeffrey R Holland, “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments,” BYU Devotional Address, 12 January 1988, Retrieved from http://www.familylifeeducation.org/gilliland/procgroup/Souls.htm).

Furthermore, while they may be unfamiliar to latter-day saints, such terms as “the Eucharist,” and “communion” can do much to help us to understand the full meaning of the ordinance of the sacrament.

Outside of its direct religious meaning, communion is defined as an “interchange or sharing of thoughts or emotions; intimate communication: [for example, a] communion with nature” (Dictionary.com, n.d.).  It is in this sense of oneness that the Apostle Paul used this term to teach about the doctrine of the sacrament.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17  The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

When we partake of the sacrament, we symbolically commune with Christ, and with our fellow church members.

Paul spoke of Church members eating and drinking together as “partakers of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17). In the culture of the ancient Near East, dining together at the same table was an expression of unity, peace, and friendship. If there had been problems or disagreements among individuals before they sat down to eat, these were resolved, and all parties were reconciled. Paul reminded the Saints of this idea when he spoke of the sacrament, which he referred to as “communion.” The word translated as “communion” in 1 Corinthians 10:16 denotes close fellowship, partnership, and sharing. Therefore, when members partake of “one bread” (loaf) during the ordinance of the sacrament, they affirm oneness or unity not only with Christ but also with one another (1 Corinthians 10:17). They are “partakers of the Lord’s table” (1 Corinthians 10:21) and have the opportunity to be reconciled with Christ and enjoy greater communion with Him. (New Testament Student Manual, 2014).

“These are moments when we quite literally unite our will with God's will, our spirit with his spirit, where communion through the veil becomes very real. At such moments we not only acknowledge his divinity, but we quite literally take something of that divinity to ourselves. Such are the holy sacraments” (Jeffrey R Holland, “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments,” BYU Devotional Address, 12 January 1988, Retrieved from http://www.familylifeeducation.org/gilliland/procgroup/Souls.htm).

(We’ll talk more about the communion symbolism of the sacrament later).

Unlike communion, the term “the Eucharist” is not found in the Bible, however it has valuable meaning that can help us to more fully appreciate the sacrament.  When used outside of its explicit religious meaning, the word eucharist denotes “the giving of thanks; thanksgiving” (Dictionary.com, n.d.). It is important to remember to be grateful for Christ’s atoning sacrifice which He made for each of us, and which we commemorate each time we partake of the sacrament.  For this reason, I find the term “eucharist” to be an important reminder of one of the most important (and overlooked) meanings of the sacrament.

“In remembrance of this great act of infinite love, which has been the means of redeeming a fallen world, those who profess his name show their gratitude and likewise “the Lord’s death till he come,” by observing this ordinance”  (Smith, 1955, p. 339).

Why do we observe the sacrament?

We call this sacred ordinance “the sacrament of the Lord’s supper” because it was instituted by the Savior at the end of his Mortal ministry, during what has come to be called “the Last Supper.”

“On the eve of Gethsemane and Calvary, Jesus gathered His Apostles together one last time to worship. The place was the upper room of a disciple’s home in Jerusalem, and the season was Passover.

Before them was the traditional Passover meal, consisting of the sacrificial lamb, wine, and unleavened bread, emblems of Israel’s past salvation from slavery and death and of a future redemption yet to be realized. As the meal drew to a conclusion, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to His Apostles, saying, “Take, eat.” “This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” In a similar manner, He took the cup of wine, offered a blessing on it, and passed it to those around Him, saying: “This cup is the new testament in my blood,” “which is shed … for the remission of sins.” “This do in remembrance of me.”
In this simple yet profound manner, Jesus instituted a new ordinance for God’s covenant people” (Hamula, 2014).

Why did Christ institute this new ordinance, and why is it called a “new” ordinance?  The sacrament was intended to be a symbol of the solemnization of the new covenant (or testament), which was brought about both in and through Christ, and as such it superseded and replaced the observances of the old covenant and law, or what we call the Law of Moses.

“It was instituted by the Savior in the place of the law of sacrifice which was given to Adam, and which continued with his children down to the days of Christ, but which was fulfilled in his death, he being the great sacrifice for sin, of which the sacrifices enjoined in the law given to Adam were a similitude” (Smith, 1939, p. 202).

“In this simple yet profound manner, Jesus instituted a new ordinance for God’s covenant people. No longer would animal blood be spilled or animal flesh be consumed in anticipation of a redeeming sacrifice of a Christ who was yet to come. Instead, emblems of the broken flesh and spilled blood of the Christ who had already come would be taken and eaten in remembrance of His redeeming sacrifice. Participation in this new ordinance would signify to all a solemn acceptance of Jesus as the promised Christ and wholehearted willingness to follow Him and keep His commandments. To those who would so signify and conduct their life, spiritual death would “pass over” them, and eternal life would be assured” (Hamula, 2014).

The sacrament represents our willingness to turn ourselves wholly over to God and to His service.  No longer do we perform outward sacrifices of bulls and rams, instead we make spiritual sacrifices, sacrifices that come from the heart.

1 Peter 2:1-5  Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

What are these spiritual sacrifices, and if we are no longer to perform animal sacrifices, how are they to be offered?

3 Nephi 9:19-20  And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

In place of bulls and rams, the Lord asks that we offer unto him our broken hearts and contrite spirits.   What does it mean to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit?  Usually, when one has a broken heart it means that person is experiencing the depths of sadness and emotional anguish.  Another meaning of this phrase is that we must have our hearts broken and tamed in the way that a spirited and rebellious horse might be broken and tamed.  We then come to God in a spirit of contrition, in which we freely acknowledge our transgressions before God, and humbly and meekly approach Him in a spirit of sorrowful remorse and sincere repentance.  In this spirit of anguish over sin, and of newfound humility, we then come before God to offer him the only thing we truly possess for ourselves: our free will.  In order to overcome the natural man, and to become truly meek and humble as one of God’s children, each of us must freely submit our will to God.

Mosiah 3:19  For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

“Our challenge is to unselfishly sacrifice all that we have been given, including our will. Elder Neal A. Maxwell rightly said:  “The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar.  The many other things we ‘give’ … are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us.”

Sacrifice is ultimately a matter of the heart—the heart.  “Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind.”  If we are caring, if we are charitable, if we are obedient to God and follow His prophets, our sacrifices will bring forth the blessings of heaven. “And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”  (Robert K. Dellenbach, “Sacrifice Brings Forth the Blessings of Heaven,” Ensign, Nov. 2002.)

While we speak of this as if it was something new, God has always been more interested in winning our hearts and spirits than He ever was in the sacrifice of animals.  God has always asked for our hearts to be broken and our spirits to be contrite, because only then are we ready to be purged and cleansed from sin so that he can create within us “a clean heart” and “a right spirit.”  King David understood this principle (and demonstrated this process) when he pleaded with the Lord to:

Psalm 51:1-17  Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.  Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.  For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.  Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.  Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.  Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.  Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.  O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.  For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

This is the whole meaning of the Gospel, and the major significance of the sacrament, that we come before God with an offering (freely given) of our heart and our spirit, which we (spiritually) place upon the altar as we partake of the sacrament each week.  We must choose to sacrifice our hard heart and to give up our spirit of pride and rebellion, and replace them with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, if we hope to obtain forgiveness for sins, and more importantly, to form a more profound and intimate relationship with God.  If we will covenant to obey His commandments (and always remember Christ), the Lord will send His Holy Spirit to always be with us, and to help to create in us a desire to serve God willingly and from the heart, and enable us to better obey those commandments.  In other words, we will be sanctified and made holy by the workings of the Spirit, and so we will be more prepared to become true saints and disciples of Christ, and ultimately to become more like Him.  The Lord described this process through the prophet Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 36:24-27:

“For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.  Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.  A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

“When Paul spoke of giving our bodies as “a living sacrifice,” he drew a parallel to the Old Testament practice of sacrificing animals. Elder Russell M. Nelson taught: “We are still commanded to sacrifice, but not by shedding blood of animals. Our highest sense of sacrifice is achieved as we make ourselves more sacred or holy. This we do by our obedience to the commandments of God. Thus, the laws of obedience and sacrifice are indelibly intertwined. … As we comply with these and other commandments, something wonderful happens to us. We become disciplined! We become disciples! We become more sacred and holy—like our Lord!” (Russell M. Nelson, “Lessons from Eve,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 88).

The Sacramental Prayers


Much of this symbolism is directly mentioned in the sacrament prayers which are uttered over both the bread and the water.  As these prayers are spoken, and while the sacrament is administered to others, we would do well to spend this time in introspection, and in a deliberate attitude of contrition and humility, as we freely submit our heart and will to God.  It is in such moments that the sacrament can become a truly transformative spiritual experience, as we are cleansed of our sins and brought once more into communion with God through His Spirit.

The sacrament gives us an opportunity for introspection and an opportunity to turn our heart and will to God. Obedience to the commandments brings the power of the gospel into our lives and greater peace and spirituality.

The sacrament provides a time for a truly spiritual experience as we reflect upon the Savior’s redeeming and enabling power through His Atonement…The sacrament becomes a spiritually strengthening experience when we listen to the sacrament prayers and recommit to our covenants. To do this, we must be willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. Speaking of this promise, President Henry B. Eyring taught: “That means we must see ourselves as His. We will put Him first in our lives. We will want what He wants rather than what we want or what the world teaches us to want. (Esplin, 2014).

There is much meaning to be found in the words contained in the sacrament prayers, and many of the promises and commitments we make as we partake of the sacrament are contained in the words of the prayers.  In order that we might more fully grasp the meaning and purpose of the ordinance of the sacrament, it would be wise to examine these prayers in detail.

First, the bread:  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. (D&C 20:77)

And now the prayer for the water, or the wine (the symbolism here is the same): O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them.  Amen.

There are a number of words and phrases contained in these prayers that represent a commitment on our part to do or become certain things.  In an effort to gain a deeper insight into the promises we make when we partake of the sacrament, I have broken these terms down in order to examine them each in turn:

Remember

Note that one of the words that is repeated in both prayers is the word remember.  When we partake of the sacrament, we symbolically commemorate Christ’s sacrifice for us, and we covenant that we will always remember him.  This is more than a mental thank you to be made every Sunday.  We covenant to remember Christ in all that we do, say, or think, and in all of our dealings with others, every day of the week, for as long as we live.  We need to remember him because it is easy to forget the promises which we have made to keep his commandments, to bear one another’s burdens, and to stand as witnesses of him in all places.  When we partake of the sacrament, we renew our determination to follow in the Savior’s footsteps, and to strive to adhere to His example in all that we do and are, as disciples of Jesus Christ.  When following Christ becomes painful or inconvenient, we need to be reminded of the sacrifices which Christ made for each of us, and we often need to be reminded of the commitment we willingly made at baptism to follow Christ in faith, no matter the cost.

“As we partake of the sacrament, we witness to God that we will remember His Son always, not just during the brief sacrament ordinance. This means that we will constantly look to the Savior’s example and teachings to guide our thoughts, our choices, and our acts. The sacrament prayer also reminds us that we must “keep his commandments.” Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (Esplin, 2014).

“Through the sacramental prayers, we express our acceptance of this doctrine of Christ and our commitment to live according to it. In our petition to God, our Eternal Father, we declare that we will “always remember” His precious Son. First, we witness our “willingness” to remember. Then we witness that we “do” remember. In so doing, we are making solemn commitments to exercise faith in Jesus Christ and in His Redemption of us from death and sin” (Hamula, 2014).


Keep his commandments

When we partake of the sacrament, we promise that we will “always… keep his commandments.” We are flawed and prone to weakness, and so we typically fall short of our promise to “always” keep the commandments.  Therefore, this declaration represents our solemn determination to do our absolute best to keep the commandments, and represents our firm commitment to repent when we fall short.  This by no means lets us off the hook, the sacrament is not designed as a “get out of jail free card” for us to use whenever keeping the commandments becomes too difficult or inconvenient.  Rather, the ordinance of the sacrament has been provided to us as a means by which we can grow and stretch, according to the best of our ability, while allowing us access to the grace of Christ to renew (and recommit to keeping) our covenants when we fall short of the glory of God due to our mortal weakness.  The sacrament is an opportunity for us to learn to do better, so that we can do and become better tomorrow than we are today, and commit to a life which more closely resembles Christ and His perfect example each day.  “If our thoughts, words, or actions have been less than what they should have been in days past, we recommit ourselves to more closely align our lives with His in days to come” (Hamula, 2014).

Willing to take upon them the name of thy Son

When we are baptized, we covenant to take upon us the name of our Savior Jesus Christ.  When we do so, we covenant to act as He would act, to do as He would do, and to be what he would have us to be, in all situations and places in which we find ourselves.  When we partake of the sacrament, we renew our covenants which we made at baptism, including our promise to take upon us the name of Christ.

“The sacrament becomes a spiritually strengthening experience when we listen to the sacrament prayers and recommit to our covenants. To do this, we must be willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. Speaking of this promise, President Henry B. Eyring taught: “That means we must see ourselves as His. We will put Him first in our lives. We will want what He wants rather than what we want or what the world teaches us to want. (Esplin, 2014).

Taking Christ’s name upon us is about more than acting as His representative or asking ourselves “What Would Jesus Do?” as the popular bumper sticker advocates.  Rather, taking his name upon us signifies our willingness to submit our will to His, which is an essential part of becoming reconciled to God through Christ, as we strive put off the rebellious natural man and to become a true saint.  This is just one more way in which the sacrament enables us to gain eternal life, as we join the family of God, through fellowship with the saints and communion with God.

“[When we partake of the sacrament] we declare that we “are willing to take upon [us] the name of [the] Son.” That is a solemn commitment to submit ourselves to His authority and to do His work, which includes receiving for ourselves every saving ordinance and covenant.

Mosiah 3:19  For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

2 Nephi 10:24-25  Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.  Wherefore, may God raise you from death by the power of the resurrection, and also from everlasting death by the power of the atonement, that ye may be received into the eternal kingdom of God, that ye may praise him through grace divine.  Amen.

For more along these lines read my article Why Being a Child of God is Not Enough.

That they may always have his Spirit to be with them

“When we commit ourselves to these principles, we are promised in the sacramental prayers that we will “have his Spirit to be with [us].” Receiving anew the Spirit is a consummate blessing because the Spirit is the agent who cleanses and purifies us from sin and transgression” (Hamula, 2014).

No unclean thing can enter into the presence of God, and the Holy Ghost cleanses us once again, in renewal of the blessings of the baptism of fire which we received when we were confirmed a member of the church.  However, there is an even more profound and sacred aspect to the promise that we will always have Christ’s spirit to be with us.

“The man who is confirmed [and worthily partakes of the sacrament] receives, in addition to this Spirit of Christ, the companionship of the third member of the Godhead. Therefore, he is back again in the presence of God, through the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Smith, 1955, p. 41).

When we partake of the sacrament each week, the effects of sin and death are once again expiated on our behalf, and we are enabled to commune once again with God, through the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The ordinance of the sacrament is truly one of the most holy and sacred observances in which we can participate in the church.  We are enabled to enter into the presence of God in our own meetinghouse.  Small wonder that prophets and apostles have declared the special sacredness and importance of the sacrament meeting!  We can be reunited with God in this life, and we do not have to wait until the next to meet Him!  Truly, if eternal life is to know God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, then the sacrament makes eternal life available to us in this life and not only in the life to come!

Why does worthiness matter?

In the earliest preserved Biblical teachings about the sacrament, the apostle Paul taught that each member who partakes of the sacrament needs to “examine himself.”  As has been mentioned elsewhere, the sacrament should be a time of introspection and internal reflection.  While it is appropriate (and important) to reflect on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ which is commemorated each time we observe the sacrament, it is equally important to spend time in self-examination,  both before and during the administration of the sacrament.  If we determine that we are unworthy to partake of the sacrament, because of unresolved sin, or due to some other fault, it is up to us to recuse ourselves from partaking of the sacrament.  This is part of the self-discipline that is a requirement of Christian discipleship:  no one else (who is mortal) will know if we elect to take the sacrament unworthily for the sake of outward appearances, but we will know, and to knowingly take upon us an oath which we have broken in the taking will essentially stunt our spiritual growth.

This is what Paul meant when he taught that “whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord… For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.  For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

If we are honest as we examine ourselves in preparation to receive the sacrament, there will be no room for self-deception.

“The sacrament is … a time of deep introspection and self-examination. Paul exhorted, ‘Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup’ (1 Corinthians 11:28). The sacrament is a time when we not only remember the Savior, but we match our life against that of the Great Exemplar. It is a time to put aside all self-deception; it is a time of absolute sublime truth. All excuses, all facades must fall by the wayside, allowing our spirit, as it really is, to commune spirit to Spirit with our Father. At this moment we become our own judge, contemplating what our life really is and what it really should be. David must have felt this way when he pleaded, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’ (Psalm 139:23–24). (Hamula, 2014).

As we gain spiritual maturity we will see that the forgiveness and healing that can come as we partake worthily of the sacrament is worth more than appearances, and we will come to value spiritual progress and growth over the esteem of others.  Also, it is a truth that nobody else is actually watching us to see if we have chosen to partake of the sacrament or not.  If I happen to notice that someone has declined to partake of the sacrament, I tend to say to myself, “there is an honest man,” and I then promptly forget about it.

Why is it that worthiness is such an important requirement for those who wish to partake of the sacrament?  Recall that when one partakes of the sacrament, they are signifying that they are willing to do what is required to receive the companionship of the Holy ghost, and so be ushered back into the presence of the godhead.  The scriptures are quite clear that no unclean thing can enter into the presence of God

Partaking of the sacrament unworthily thus represents damnation, because sin separates us from God, and the Spirit will not and cannot bring us back into communion with God if we are tainted by unresolved sin.  However, one should be careful to use good judgment in determining whether or not they are worthy to partake of the sacrament.  There is no need to write ourselves off as damned, when the whole point of the sacrament is to help us to grow and progress so that we might become closer to God.  To that end Elder John H. Groberg explained the criteria by which we ought to examine ourselves in order to determine our worthiness.

“If we desire to improve (which is to repent) and are not under priesthood restriction, then, in my opinion, we are worthy. If, however, we have no desire to improve, if we have no intention of following the guidance of the Spirit, we must ask: Are we worthy to partake, or are we making a mockery of the very purpose of the sacrament, which is to act as a catalyst for personal repentance and improvement? If we remember the Savior and all he has done and will do for us, we will improve our actions and thus come closer to him, which keeps us on the road to eternal life.

If, however, we refuse to repent and improve, if we do not remember him and keep his commandments, then we have stopped our growth, and that is damnation to our souls” (Groberg, 1989).

Even then we are not damned in the eternal sense, for the path of repentance is always open to us in this life, if we will only choose to take it, and I encourage all to seek the aid and counsel of their appropriate priesthood leaders in order that you might once again return to the path of progress and joy. 

The significance of the emblems

JST Mark 14:20-25  And as they did eat, Jesus took bread and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them, and said, Take it, and eat.  Behold, this is for you to do in remembrance of my body; for as oft as ye do this ye will remember this hour that I was with you.  And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them; and they all drank of it.  And he said unto them, This is in remembrance of my blood which is shed for many, and the new testament which I give unto you; for of me ye shall bear record unto all the world.  And as oft as ye do this ordinance, ye will remember me in this hour that I was with you and drank with you of this cup, even the last time in my ministry.  Verily I say unto you, Of this ye shall bear record; for I will no more drink of the fruit of the vine with you, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.

“The Savior taught by these metaphors that his life, mission, atonement, and doctrines are the source of eternal life. Never were his references to bread and water intended literally. The bread and water used in the sacrament are symbolic representations that teach us and remind us of the Atonement” (Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual, 2011, 71).

“Our wounded souls can be healed and renewed not only because the bread and water remind us of the Savior’s sacrifice of His flesh and blood but because the emblems also remind us that He will always be our “bread of life” and “living water”” (Esplin, 2014).

The Bread
“With torn and broken bread, we signify that we remember the physical body of Jesus Christ—a body that was buffeted with pains, afflictions, and temptations of every kind, a body that bore a burden of anguish sufficient to bleed at every pore, a body whose flesh was torn and whose heart was broken in crucifixion. We signify our belief that while that same body was laid to rest in death, it was raised again to life from the grave, never again to know disease, decay, or death. And in taking the bread to ourselves, we acknowledge that, like Christ’s mortal body, our bodies will be released from the bonds of death, rise triumphantly from the grave, and be restored to our eternal spirits” (Hamula, 2014).

“The Hebrew word for “bread” is lehem, though its original meaning was “flesh,” as we learn from the Arabic cognate, lahm. It is the second element in the name of Jesus’ birthplace, Beth-lehem, “house of bread.” Consequently, bread was a fitting symbol for the flesh of the Savior, who declared himself to be “the true bread from heaven” (see John 6:32-58)” (Tvedtnes, 2007). 

John 6:35  And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

Christ taught that He is the bread of life, and that all those who come unto him shall never hunger.  We depend on our daily bread for health and sustenance.  Without it we would quickly perish.  Unfortunately, no matter how much, or how many times, we eat, we will always hunger once more.  There is no mortal food which can truly satisfy our profound need.

Just so, Christ is that bread upon which we must come to depend or else we must surely perish.  Jesus Christ and the message of His gospel are the only things that can truly satisfy the hunger and the emptiness that gnaws at our souls.  Without him we would be empty and miserable in this world, and ultimately our life would have no purpose.  We depend wholly on the kindness and grace of the Savior, who offers us His broken body so that we might be eternally filled.  Through Him we can be filled with what truly matters, namely eternal life and righteousness, and eternity with those whom we love.

John 6:48-51  I am that bread of life.  Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.  This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

The Water
“With a small cup of water, we signify that we remember the blood Jesus spilled and the spiritual suffering He endured for all mankind. We remember the agony that caused great drops of blood to fall in Gethsemane. We remember the bruising and scourging He endured at the hands of His captors. We remember the blood He spilled from His hands, feet, and side while at Calvary. And we remember His personal reflection on His suffering: “How sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.” In taking the water to ourselves, we acknowledge that His blood and suffering atoned for our sins and that He will remit our sins as we embrace and accept the principles and ordinances of His gospel.

“Thus, with bread and water, we are reminded of Christ’s Redemption of us from death and sin” (Hamula, 2014).

Christ taught that He was the living water, which meant that He is an unquenchable source of life and life-giving purity that springs forth eternally.  He promised that those who drink of this water will never thirst.

John 4:13-14    Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:  But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

Alma 42:27  Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.

Isaiah 12:2-3  Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.  Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.

Psalms 36:9-10  For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.  O continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright in heart.

Isaiah 58:11  And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

When we drink literal water we will inevitable become thirsty again, no matter how much or how deeply we drink.  No matter how hard we try, we can never be satisfied.  Similarly, no matter how hard we scrub, or how often we bathe, no amount of water can ever cleanse our souls.  Just so, true happiness and fulfillment, and the blessings of sanctification and eternal life are out of our reach without the aid of the Savior.  Only He can offer the water that grants eternal life, and the peace and joy that “passeth all understanding” (see Philippians 4:7).  This living water is meant to sustain us in the here and now, and not just in the hereafter, and Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin explained how we ought to go about obtaining this living water:

“Do you wish to partake of this living water and experience that divine well springing up within you to everlasting life?

“Then be not afraid. Believe with all your hearts. Develop an unshakable faith in the Son of God. Let your hearts reach out in earnest prayer. Fill your minds with knowledge of Him. Forsake your weaknesses. Walk in holiness and harmony with the commandments” (Wirthlin, 2006).

Ultimately, the great promise contained in the sacrament prayers, and symbolized by the sacred emblems employed by the Savior, is that those who follow Christ and honor those covenants which they have made with the Lord will be granted eternal life.  Eternal life and the immortality of man are the Lord’s two great purposes for us, and the ordinance of the sacrament plays a crucial part in helping us to realize those purposes.

John 6:54  Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

Why do we partake of water instead of wine when we observe the sacrament?


Despite what many people think, the word of wisdom is not the reason that the church no longer uses wine in the sacrament.  In fact, wine is expressly permitted for use in the sacrament in this passage from Section 89 of the Doctrine of Covenants, which is known as “the Word of Wisdom.”

D&C 89:5-6  That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.  And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.

In August 1830, Joseph Smith was on his way to buy some wine for use in the observance of the sacrament in a gathering of the saints when he was met by a heavenly messenger who instructed him not to buy wine from the “enemies” of the church.

D&C 27:3-4  Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, that you shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies; Wherefore, you shall partake of none except it is made new among you; yea, in this my Father's kingdom which shall be built up on the earth.

The messenger also informed Joseph, on behalf of the Lord, that the particular items used in the sacrament are less important than what they represent.

D&C 27:1-2  Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Lord, your God, and your Redeemer, whose word is quick and powerful. For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins.

In view of this revelation, the church eventually substituted water for wine in the sacrament, and by the early twentieth century wine was no longer used in LDS congregations.

"Since “it mattereth not” what we drink for the sacrament, Church leaders have asked us to use water, which is inexpensive and universally available.

No matter what is used for the sacrament, we should focus our thoughts on the Savior and our commitment to follow Him" ("Why do we use water instead of wine for the sacrament?", 2008).

The Symbolic Power of the Sacrament Emblems

The emblems of the sacrament are intended to be purely symbolic, and as such contain no power or holiness in and of themselves, nor are they sufficient to nourish us in the physical sense.  Any power contained the sacrament emblems comes from our inner spiritual dedication to honor the covenants we made at baptism, and which we renew each time we partake of the sacrament, and also from the administration of those covenants through the priesthood of God.  The bread and water are therefore powerful symbols of the spiritual nourishment that is provided by worthy and mindful observance of the sacrament.

“Perhaps more than any other food and drink, bread and water represent sustenance for the human body. But partaking of the bread and water of the sacrament provides no purposeful sustenance for the body. If the sacrament is not designed to sustain the body, then what is to be sustained? …the emblems of the sacrament are for the sake of the soul, not of the body. The Savior promised that if we partake of the sacrament with fulness of heart and purity of intent, our soul “shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled”” (Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual, 2011, 71).

[Mormon] noted repeatedly that the disciples and the multitude were “filled” by the tiny emblems of a crust of bread and a sip of wine.  Obviously they were not “filled” physically.  This invitation from Christ to take the meaning of the sacrament to our very souls provides the context for how one is filled by such tiny emblems, for when the multitude had eaten the bread and drunk the wine, they were “filled with the Spirit; and they did cry out with one voice, and gave glory to Jesus, whom they both saw and heard”” (Holland, 1997, pp. 283-284).

Communion

The sacrament ordinance is therefore designed to be a profoundly spiritual experience in which we each are offered a chance to commune once more with God, and as such it requires a much more profound level of devotion from those who participate in it.

“One of the invitations inherent in the sacramental ordinance is that it be a truly spiritual experience, a holy communion, a renewal for the soul.  Jesus said to the Nephites, “He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shal never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled”” (Holland, 1997, p. 283).

When we partake of the sacrament each week we are not supposed to be drawing pictures in the program, or texting our girlfriend, or any of the other things that we are prone to do while we wait for the bread and the water to be passed.  During this sacred ordinance we are meant to place ourselves “in a state of intimate, heightened sensitivity and receptivity” so that we can “be in intimate communication or rapport” with God.



“If the emblems of the sacrament are being passed and you are texting or whispering or playing video games or doing anything else to deny yourself essential spiritual food, you are severing your spiritual roots and moving yourself toward stony ground. You are making yourself vulnerable to withering away when you encounter tribulation like isolation, intimidation, or ridicule.”  (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Parable of the Sower,” Ensign, May 2015, lds.org).


This ordinance is not the only time that we can, or frankly should, commune with God (the temple is the obvious place for an experience of this nature).  However the sacrament is the most basic symbol of our dedication to coming to a oneness with our God and Savior, as well as of our fellowship and unity with our fellow disciples, and as such it should merit a more profound consideration as we prepare for this experience each week.

The sacramental ordinance (in which we renew our baptismal covenants) is a sublime and beautiful symbol of our willingness to take Christ’s name upon us and our determination to “put on Christ” and to serve Him and “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God”.  When we partake of the sacrament we renew our baptismal covenants, through which we became “members of the body of Christ” (I refer you once again to 1 Corinthians 12:12-13) or in other words, members of Christ‘s church.  This symbolizes both our unity with our fellow disciples as well as our unity with Christ.

A less commonly understood aspect of this symbol of unity with Christ is that when we partake of the bread and the water that represent Christ’s broken flesh and the blood that he shed for us, we are, in effect, putting Christ in our body (or more accurately we are putting Christ in our hearts).  In observing the sacrament, we once again become members of His body, and simultaneously he becomes a part of our body.  When we become a part of Christ, we should also be making Christ a part of us.  This (symbolic) unity assures us that we are “alive in Christ”.  Christ explains this concept far better than I can in John 6:56-57:

He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.  As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer elaborates:  “Christians are “with Christ” in a special sense….For Christians it is a means of grace.  Baptism is [our] assurance that [we] are “dead with Christ”, “Crucified with him”, “buried with him”, “planted together in the likeness of his death”.   All this creates in [us] the assurance that [we] will also live with him.  ‘We with Christ’-for Christ is Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’  Only when we know Christ in this way is our being with him a source of grace….Thus not only does the individual become a member of the Body of Christ, but the fellowship of the baptized becomes a body identical with Christ’s own Body.  The Christians are ‘in Christ’ and ‘Christ in them.’  They…are henceforth ‘in Christ’ in the totality of their being and life…”  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 240)

In other words, it is not enough to simply declare one’s support for, or even loyalty for, Jesus Christ, even when done so by means of covenant.  The intent of the ordinance is to help us to symbolically become one with Christ in order that we might be saved.  To do this we must take upon ourselves more than His name, we must take upon us His very nature-His essence, His identity.  We must become so much like Christ, so united with Him, that it can be said that we are “‘in Christ’ in the totality of [our] being and life.”  C. S. Lewis helped to explain the role that the sacrament plays in forming the Christ-life in each of us.

“Let me make it quite clear that when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being "in Christ" or of Christ being "in them," this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts—that we are His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body. And perhaps that explains one or two things. It explains why this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion. It is not merely the spreading of an idea; it is more like evolution-a biological or super-biological fact. There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it” (Lewis, 1952, pp. 63-64).

The concept of Christ operating and “living” through us is what Paul taught when he said:

Galatians 2:20  I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

This concept of the Christ-life is more commonly taught among Mormons using the concept of “taking Christ’s name upon you.”  As Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught, this has reference to more than Christ’s name.  Rather it refers to the process of “attaining the essence of Christ.”

“Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name?  For by this name shall ye be called at the last day; And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.  [3 Nephi 27:5-6]

This reference to taking upon us the name of Christ and being ‘saved at the last day’ is a clear reference to exaltation, which means attaining the essence of Christ.  Thus, in the concluding lecture on faith, the Prophet [Joseph Smith] taught that ‘salvation [exaltation] consists in the glory, authority, majesty, power, and dominion which Jehovah possesses and in nothing else; and no being can possess it but himself or one like him.’  (Lectures on Faith, 7:9) (Emphasis added)

In other words, to be saved we must take upon us-attain to-the essence of Christ.  This is the purpose and goal of His plan, including His atonement, His authority, and His commandments, under which we give obedience and service, receive ordinances, and make and keep covenants.”  (Dallin H. Oaks, His Holy Name, 56)

The sacrament helps us to do this because, as was mentioned earlier, “The word translated as “communion” in [the New Testament] denotes close fellowship, partnership, and sharing. Therefore, when members partake of “one bread” (loaf) during the ordinance of the sacrament, they affirm oneness or unity…with Christ” (New Testament Student Manual, 2014).  The fellowship that is gained by means of the sacramental ordinance is one so profound that it allows us to be one with God in this life, through the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and in the next life it empowers us to become like God, as we gain eternal life, which comes through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

“Fellowship includes the ideas of communion, partnership, and sharing a common life. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught, “To have fellowship with the Lord in this life is to enjoy the companionship of his Holy Spirit, … and to have fellowship with him in eternity is to be like him, having that eternal life of which he is the possessor and originator”” (New Testament Student Manual, 2014).


Does the order (bread first, water second) matter?

Hamula, of the quorum of the Seventy, taught that the fact that we partake of the bread before the water has important symbolic significance:

“The sequence of bread first and water second is not inconsequential. In partaking of the bread, we are reminded of our own inevitable personal resurrection, which consists of more than just the restoration of body and spirit. By the power of the Resurrection, all of us will be restored to the presence of God. That reality presents to us the fundamental question of our lives. The fundamental question facing all of us is not whether we will live but with whom we will live after we die. While every one of us will return to the presence of God, not every one of us will remain with Him.

“Through mortality, every one of us becomes soiled with sin and transgression. We will have had thoughts, words, and works that will have been less than virtuous. In short, we will be unclean. And the consequence of uncleanliness in the presence of God, Jesus made perfectly clear: “No unclean thing can dwell … in his presence.” That reality was brought home to Alma the Younger, who, when confronted by a holy angel, was so racked, harrowed, and tormented by his uncleanliness that he desired to become “extinct both soul and body, that [he] might not be brought to stand in the presence of … God.”

“In partaking of the sacramental water, we are taught how we may be made clean from sin and transgression and thus stand in the presence of God. By the shedding of His innocent blood, Jesus Christ satisfied the demands of justice for every sin and transgression. He then offers to make us clean if we will have faith in Him sufficient to repent; accept all the ordinances and covenants of salvation, beginning with baptism; and receive the Holy Ghost. Upon our receipt of the Holy Ghost, we are cleansed and purified. Jesus made this doctrine very clear:

“No unclean thing can enter into [God’s] kingdom; … nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood. …

“Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.”

“This is the doctrine of Christ. When we receive this doctrine and conduct our lives accordingly, we are in effect washed in the blood of Christ and made clean” (Hamula, 2014).

According to Hamula, the bread represents the physical restoration of our bodies through the resurrection, and the unavoidable fact that we will all be brought to stand before God to answer for our sins and transgressions.  All men will be resurrected, as a free gift through the grace of God, and brought to stand in the presence of God to be judged.  Those who have not repented of their sins and allowed themselves to be cleansed by the atonement of Jesus Christ will find that they cannot bear to remain in God’s presence.

Alma 12:12-15  And Amulek hath spoken plainly concerning death, and being raised from this mortality to a state of immortality, and being brought before the bar of God, to be judged according to our works.  Then if our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned.  For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.  But this cannot be; we must come forth and stand before him in his glory, and in his power, and in his might, majesty, and dominion, and acknowledge to our everlasting shame that all his judgments are just; that he is just in all his works, and that he is merciful unto the children of men, and that he has all power to save every man that believeth on his name and bringeth forth fruit meet for repentance.

Mosiah 2:38-39  Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.  And now I say unto you, that mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.

Alma 12:16-18  And now behold, I say unto you then cometh a death, even a second death, which is a spiritual death; then is a time that whosoever dieth in his sins, as to a temporal death, shall also die a spiritual death; yea, he shall die as to things pertaining unto righteousness.  Then is the time when their torments shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever; and then is the time that they shall be chained down to an everlasting destruction, according to the power and captivity of Satan, he having subjected them according to his will.  Then, I say unto you, they shall be as though there had been no redemption made; for they cannot be redeemed according to God's justice; and they cannot die, seeing there is no more corruption.

No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God, and eternal separation from God represents such bitter torment that it is often called the second death in the scriptures.  Fortunately, Christ has offered each of us the opportunity to repent of our sins, and to be washed clean through the power of His redemption, by means of His Spirit.  We gain access to this spirit through covenant, and we renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament.  The sacrament emblem of the water represents the internal (and less tangible) cleansing and purifying effect of the Holy Ghost, which is offered to us as the principle blessing for making and renewing the baptismal covenant before God.  If we have been cleansed through the atonement of Christ, God’s judgment holds no fear for us, and we will be able to claim Christ’s grace and righteousness when we are called to stand before Him.  The sacrament, and other covenantal observances, will enable us to enter into God’s rest, to enjoy eternal life, which is the greatest gift that God has to give.

The Role of the Aaronic Priesthood in administering the sacrament

D&C 20:75-76  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:

“Aaronic Priesthood holders represent the Savior when they prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament. As a priesthood holder extends his arm to offer us the sacred emblems, it is as if the Savior Himself were extending His arm of mercy, inviting each one of us to partake of the precious gifts of love made available through His atoning sacrifice—gifts of repentance, forgiveness, comfort, and hope” (Esplin, 2014).

“In general, the blessings of spiritual companionship and communication are only available to those who are clean. … Through the Aaronic Priesthood ordinances of baptism and the sacrament, we are cleansed of our sins and promised that if we keep our covenants we will always have His Spirit to be with us. I believe that promise not only refers to the Holy Ghost but also to the ministering of angels, for ‘angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ’ (2 Nephi 32:3). So it is that those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood open the door for all Church members who worthily partake of the sacrament to enjoy the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord and the ministering of angels” (Oaks, 1998).

Too often we take the sacrament, and those who are privileged to participate in the administration of this ordinance, for granted.  Remember that these humble Aaronic priesthood holders represent the Savior as they administer the sacrament, even though they may be only twelve years old.  What a marvelous thing it is that someone so young can exercise the responsibility to stand as a representative of the Savior in service to the members of His ward, to help them to partake of the cleansing power of the sacrament.  Do not discount someone because he is “just a deacon.”  In the priesthood, nobody is “just” anything, and even the lowliest deacon can exercise the power of God for the benefit of those around Him.



Is it necessary to take the sacrament with one’s right hand? Does it really make any difference which hand is used?

In an answer to this question, Elder Russell M. Nelson, who was then a regional representative for the Church, cited a number of examples in the scriptures in which the right hand is used as a symbol to denote favor and preferred status.

“As Rachel lay dying in the pain of childbirth, she named her new son Ben-oni, which in Hebrew means “son of my sorrow” or “distress.” But her bereaved husband, Jacob (Israel), changed the name of their newborn son, perhaps to avoid a repeated reference to her travail and death each time his son’s name might be spoken. The name he chose instead was Benjamin, which in Hebrew means “son at the right (hand).” (See Gen. 35:16–19.) Israel’s great love for his beloved Rachel was signified by this special designation given to Benjamin, his twelfth son.

That the right hand suggests symbolic favor is suggested again in the parable of the sheep and the goats. Jesus said:

“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

“And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

“And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matt. 25:31–34.)

Numerous other scriptural references to the right hand are listed on page 433 of the Topical Guide appended to the new LDS edition of the Bible. These accounts give some background and insight into the symbolic significance of the right hand—a symbolism that appears in the language and other cultural features of the Jewish and Christian world. In Latin, for example, dexter (right) and sinister (left) not only indicated right and left but became the roots for adjectives carrying favorable and unfavorable connotations. The use of the right hand as a symbolic gesture was in time extended to the administration of governmental oaths, and to the courtroom, as witnesses were called to testify under oath.

With this background, we may now focus on the question of which hand to use when partaking of the sacrament.

The word sacrament comes from two Latin stems: sacr meaning “sacred,” and ment meaning “mind.” It implies sacred thoughts of the mind. Even more compelling is the Latin word sacramentum, which literally means “oath or solemn obligation.” Partaking of the sacrament might therefore be thought of as a renewal by oath of the covenant previously made in the waters of baptism. It is a sacred mental moment, including (1) a silent oath manifested by the use of one’s hand, symbolic of the individual’s covenant, and (2) the use of bread and water, symbolic of the great atoning sacrifice of the Savior of the world.

The hand used in partaking of the sacrament would logically be the same hand used in making any other sacred oath. For most of us, that would be the right hand. However, sacramental covenants—and other eternal covenants as well—can be and are made by those who have lost the use of the right hand, or who have no hands at all. Much more important than concern over which hand is used in partaking of the sacrament is that the sacrament be partaken with a deep realization of the atoning sacrifice that the sacrament represents.

Parents are sometimes concerned about which hand their children use to partake of the sacrament. As a means of education, preparation, and training, unbaptized children in the Church are offered the sacrament “to prefigure the covenant they will take upon themselves when they arrive at the years of accountability.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 660.) Therefore, it is very important that they develop a good feeling and a sacred mental attitude about the symbolism and significance of the sacrament. Parents who wish to teach the importance of this sacred experience might make the topic a part of family home evening instruction. Then, if a reminder becomes necessary in a meeting, it may be given quietly, in patience and love.

Partaking of the sacrament is a sacred mental process, and as such it becomes a very personal one for me. I think of the covenants being made between me and Deity as the prayers are pronounced. I think of God offering his Only Begotten Son. I think of the atoning sacrifice of my Savior, Jesus Christ. The sacrament was instituted by him. For all mankind, even me, he offered his flesh and blood and designated the bread and the water as symbolic emblems. Because I have a right hand, I offer it in partaking of the sacrament as an oath, that I will always remember his atoning sacrifice, take his name upon me and remember him, and keep the commandments of God.

This is a sacred privilege for all faithful Saints each Sabbath day.”  (Nelson, 1983).

Why do we take the sacrament every week?

Why do we have to take the sacrament again every week?  Other ordinances, such as marriage and baptism (ideally) happen only once.  What makes the ordinance of the sacrament so different?

“… [The Savior] knows that in our weakness we need to commit not just once at baptism, but frequently thereafter. Each week, each month, each year as we stretch forth our hand to partake of his emblems we commit with our honor, for whatever it is worth, to serve him, keep his commandments, and put our life in harmony with the divine standard” (Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement [2000], 291–92).

“In the present dispensation, at the time of the organization of the Church, the Lord said: ‘It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus.’ Then follow the exact words which are to be used in blessing the bread and the wine, or water, which by revelation has been substituted for wine.

“To meet together often for this purpose is a requirement made of members of the Church, which is just as binding upon them in its observance as the requirement in relation to any other principle or ordinance of the gospel. No member of the Church who refuses to observe this sacred ordinance can retain the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Ghost.

It is as true today as it was in the days of Paul, that many members of the church are weak and sickly, in spirit and body, and many sleep, because they have failed to show their love for, and obedience to, the Lord Jesus Christ in the keeping of this commandment” (Smith, 1955, 338).

The sacrament is an incredible blessing and a tender sign of God’s mercy and grace toward us.  Through God’s loving kindness we can learn and grow “precept upon precept; line upon line,… here a little, and there a little,” instead of being expected to be perfect all at once, which is more than most of us can handle right now.  The Lord has provided us the ordinance of the sacrament, and in truth His whole gospel and especially the principle of repentance, to allow us the freedom to expand our capacity for light and goodness through gradual growth and improvement, until finally we are made perfect through Him and perfected in Him.

D&C 50:24  That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

As we partake of the sacrament in the correct spirit, we will be blessed with an increased ability to make right choices, and to resist temptation.  As we learn and grow, our natures will eventually be changed in such a way that commandment keeping will become a part of who we are, rather than a burden to be borne.

“Do you think a man who comes into the sacrament service in the spirit of prayer, humility, and worship, and who partakes of these emblems representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ, will knowingly break the commandments of the Lord? If a man fully realizes what it means when he partakes of the sacrament, that he covenants to take upon him the name of Jesus Christ and to always remember him and keep his commandments, and this vow is renewed week by week—do you think such a man will fail to pay his tithing? Do you think such a man will break the Sabbath day or disregard the Word of Wisdom? Do you think he will fail to be prayerful, and that he will not attend his quorum duties and other duties in the Church? It seems to me that such a thing as a violation of these sacred principles and duties is impossible when a man knows what it means to make such vows week by week unto the Lord and before the saints” (Joseph Fielding Smith, in Conference Report, Oct. 1929, 62–63).

Thanks to Jesus Christ, and the gift of his atoning sacrifice, you and I can become a little better each day than we were the day before, and become a little more like Him every day.  The opportunity to partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper on a regular basis is an important part of that process of continual renewal and conversion, which will help us to put off all ungodliness and become perfected and sanctified through Christ.

Moroni 10:32-33  Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.  And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

The healing power of the sacrament

“Elder Melvin J. Ballard taught how the sacrament can be a healing and cleansing experience. He said:

“Who is there among us that does not wound his spirit by word, thought, or deed, from Sabbath to Sabbath? We do things for which we are sorry and desire to be forgiven. … The method to obtain forgiveness is … to repent of our sins, to go to those against whom we have sinned or transgressed and obtain their forgiveness and then repair to the sacrament table where, if we have sincerely repented and put ourselves in proper condition, we shall be forgiven, and spiritual healing will come to our souls. …

“I am a witness,” Elder Ballard said, “that there is a spirit attending the administration of the sacrament that warms the soul from head to foot; you feel the wounds of the spirit being healed, and the load being lifted. Comfort and happiness come to the soul that is worthy and truly desirous of partaking of this spiritual food.”

Our wounded souls can be healed and renewed not only because the bread and water remind us of the Savior’s sacrifice of His flesh and blood but because the emblems also remind us that He will always be our “bread of life” and “living water” (Esplin, 2014).

For more on this subject, you should read my article Christ and the Healing Power of the Atonement.

The sacrament is an ordinance that represents the hope and renewal which Christ so freely offers us, through His unspeakable sacrifice, which He made for each of us.  If Christ had not freely chosen to sacrifice himself for our sakes, there would have been no way for us to escape the shackles and wounds of our own sins, and no way that we could ever hope to return to live once more with our Father in Heaven.

Isaiah 61:1  The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

Alma 7:12-15  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.  Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.  Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.  Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.

“Do you remember the feeling you had when you were baptized—that sweet, clean feeling of a pure soul, having been forgiven, washed clean through the merits of the Savior? If we partake of the sacrament worthily, we can feel that way regularly, for we renew that covenant, which includes his forgiveness” (Groberg, 1989).

The sacrament is a reminder to us that Christ died to make us free, to heal us, and to cleanse us, and ultimately, to bring us joy.  All He asks is that we choose to lay aside our sins through repentance and baptism (and the sacrament), so that He can heal us and bless us, and bring us once more into God’s presence to enjoy eternal life, to sit down at his right hand, never more to suffer pain, sickness, affliction, or grief.

“…the most important event in time and eternity is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He who accomplished the Atonement has given us the ordinance of the sacrament to help us not only remember but also claim the blessings of this supreme act of grace. Regular and earnest participation in this sacred ordinance helps us continue to embrace and live the doctrine of Christ after baptism and thereby pursue and complete the process of sanctification. Indeed, the ordinance of the sacrament helps us faithfully endure to the end and receive the fulness of the Father in the same way Jesus did, grace for grace.” (Hamula, 2014).

The ordinance of the sacrament allows us very real access to the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ, which we can use to act for ourselves to grow closer to God, and to become new creatures in Christ, so that we might be enabled to “grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ,” and someday even become “a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (see Ephesians 4:13 & 15).

For more on doctrines and activities that Mormons tend to take for granted, read the following articles:

The 7 REAL reasons why you need to go to church

Fasting 101: How to Fast and Why it Matters

References

Communion. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved December 05, 2014, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/communion
Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual, (2011). Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Esplin, C. A., (2014, November). The sacrament—a renewal for the soul. Ensign. 44(11). p. 13.
Eucharist. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved December 05, 2014, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Eucharist
Groberg, J. H. (1989, April). The beauty and importance of the sacrament.  Ensign, 19(5). P. 38. Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/ensign/1989/05/the-beauty-and-importance-of-the-sacrament?lang=eng
Hamula, J. J. (2014, November). The sacrament and the atonement. Ensign. 44(11). p. 84.
Holland, J. R. (1997). Christ and the new covenant. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.
Holland, J. R. (1995, November). “This do in remembrance of me”. Ensign, 25(11). Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1995/10/this-do-in-remembrance-of-me?lang=eng
McKay, D. O. (1953) Gospel ideals. Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press
Nelson, R. M., (1983, March). I have a question. Ensign. 13(3). pp. 68-69. Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/ensign/1983/03/i-have-a-question?lang=eng
New Testament Student Manual. (2014).  Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Oaks, D. H., (1998, November). The aaronic priesthood and the sacrament. Ensign. 28(11). p. 39.
Perry, L. T., (2011). The Sabbath and the Sacrament. Ensign. 41(5). p. 7.
Preach My Gospel. (2004). Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Smith, J. F. (1939) Gospel Doctrine (5th ed.). Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.
Smith, J. F. (1955) in B. R. McConkie (Ed.). Doctrines of Salvation (Vol. 1, p. 41). Salt Lake City: Bookcraft.
Smith, J. F. (1955) in B. R. McConkie (Ed.). Doctrines of Salvation (Vol. 2, p. 338). Salt Lake City: Bookcraft.
Tvedtnes, J. A., (2007). Symbolism of the sacrament.  Meridian Magazine. Retrieved from http://meridian.com
Wirthlin, J. B. (2006, May). The abundant life. Ensign, 36(5). p. 100. Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/ensign/2006/05/the-abundant-life.p1?lang=eng
Why do we use water instead of wine for the sacrament? (2008). New Era, 38(11). Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/new-era/2008/11/to-the-point/why-do-we-use-water-instead-of-wine-for-the-sacrament?lang=eng

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