- The Sacrament
- Time, Experience, and Thoughts
- How We Remember
- Remember What, When
- The Power of Symbolism
- Jesus is Bread and Water
- The Sacrament Invitation: Come Unto Me
- Intercessory Prayer
- The Sacrament: Each Phrase
- The Bread
- The Water
- Comparing Bread and Water
- Time, Experience, and Thoughts
- Dream of the Savior (Go to Sacrament Table)
- We Who are Poor, Broken, Captive, Blind, Bruised
I remember my best friend Terry. He died in 1978, under the pier at Balboa Beach. We were 24 years old. He never married, never had children. I still remember his intelligence, his athleticism, his wit, and his friendship. You also remember beloved friends and family members. How can we show that we love them and remember them? As importantly, how and when do we remember Jesus?
Inspired by General Conference, Bishop Brandenburg asked me to speak on the Sacrament. I have pondered this topic both, lately, and really, since I joined the Church as a senior in high school over 35 years ago.
The Sacrament is a curious, yet wonderful, thing. Think of it. It is both private and communal. It is both simple yet also as deep and wide as eternity. It is both plain and beautiful. It is only a moment in time, but it connects us to Eternities. When we come fasting, we are -- at the same time -- both an hungered but also filled . . . to overflowing.
We meet together to remember Jesus by taking into our bodies the most basic sustenance, bread and water. Yet, it can be – should be -- a feast for souls starved for spiritual food, manna from heaven.
The Sacrament is that ordinance -- adapted to the capacity of old and young alike, the mature and even babes in the Gospel -- where we all come together as One to remember and “Receive the Holy Ghost” as was the gentle command just after our baptism when we were confirmed. In the case of little children or non-members, the Sacrament points our minds forward to baptism.
In baptism water washes over and symbolically cleanses us – while the Atonement Jesus has provided actually does the cleansing. So it is with both sacrament prayers, the promise of the Spirit of the Lord washing over, cleansing, comforting, guiding, and empowering us – as we remember Him and keep His commandments.
TIME, EXPERIENCE, AND THOUGHTS
The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that the “priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.” (D&C 84: 19-20)
The ordinance of the Sacrament is the ritual focal point of our weekly worship. The interaction with the Divine that can only come about through giving ourselves over to the experience.
Joseph Smith keenly observed, “The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind . . . must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.”
(He continues, “The nearer [we] approach [God], the clearer are [our] views, and the greater [our] enjoyments, till [we have] overcome the evils of . . . life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where [we are] wrapped in the power and glory of [our] Maker . . . . But we consider that this is a station to which no [one] ever arrived in a moment: . . .”)
(In his most famous discourse, Joseph reminded us that, “The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. . . .” And that, “If [we truly] comprehend the character of God, [we] comprehend [our]selves.”)
HOW WE REMEMBER
The Sacrament is the time set aside during each week where we slow down, pause, ponder, and model how, during the rest of the week, we can “always remember Him” and “always have His spirit” – in each moment of every day.
No longer do we bring an animal sacrifice to the altar, but rather, we bring and offer up a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
We don’t fight God. We receive Him, His will, and His Son – as we “receive the Holy Ghost.”
We don’t hold back. We release the chains that can bind and harden our heart.
We don’t think we know best. We realize that He knows best how to comfort and make us whole.
We don’t hold on to bitterness and wallow in sorrow. We rejoice in the holiness and confidence which replaces nagging, despairing doubt.
In this sacred ordinance all these things are “manifested” to our souls. In this holy ordinance our souls are “sanctified” as we humbly bow our head and acknowledge that not only has Jesus died for all mankind, but that, “Jesus died for me.” And in love we are drawn to Him.
REMEMBER WHAT, WHEN
So, how can we “always” remember Him? What specifically can we remember, and when?
Let’s start on Saturday evening. As we retire for the night, our hearts might find rest in prayers contemplating the purpose of the upcoming day.
As we arise Sunday morning, rather than trying to “get ready for church” so we can “go to church” -- and arrive just in time – we might start 20 or 30 minutes earlier so we don’t have to rush, or push out the door. An apostle suggested that we think more in terms of “attending Sacrament Worship Service” than simply “going to church.”
As we arrive at the chapel -- and as the Teachers of the Aaronic Priesthood are preparing the sacred emblems -- we can slide into our favorite pew, or perhaps in a pew next to some one who usually sits alone, and listen to the soft prelude music. To the Teachers of the Aaronic Priesthood, you who prepare the sacred emblems: You might recall to mind that Jesus himself prepared not only the bread and wine, but that he also prepared himself for this crucial hour. You too can so prepare.
During the hymn, what can we all remember? We can focus on the inspired words of the hymn. They are prayers unto God; portals to the Eternal Worlds. Sacrament hymns are poems and prayers of particular beauty, even as beautiful as the most poignant Christmas Hymn.
During the Sacrament prayers, what can we all remember? We focus on the words and power of the each word and phrase. We let the eternal principles denoted and connoted by each word and phrase -- and the reality that supports them -- speak to our eternal mind and our gentle heart. To the Priests of the Aaronic Priesthood: You might recall that Jesus Himself prayed over and for his disciples. He Himself broke the bread and gave it -- and the cup -- to the disciples. You too, as he did, humbly pray and offer the sacred emblems to the gathered Saints. He wants you to identify with Him as you pray on our behalf.
During the passing of the Sacrament, what can we all remember? We can continue to remember the Teachings He taught, the Life He lived; the Atonement He wrought. The more we cherish up his life and teachings in our studies, prayers, and in our service to others, the more closely we can focus now on His heart and His love for us. We can recall to our minds who He was, what he did, and especially His relation to you, and His desires for you, and your personal connection to Him . . . that you have the spark of divinity deep within you. That He desires you to be with Him and be like Him. To the Deacons of the Aaronic Priesthood: As did Jesus himself, you pass the bread and the cup to those who hunger and thirst after His righteousness. Walk as He would walk if He were here passing it again. Handle carefully these sacred symbols of His body and His blood shed for us.
To the whole of the Aaronic priesthood: Jesus particularly trusts you. He desires you to help Him bring spiritual blessings to members of this congregation. Know that you are acting on His behalf. Think of your relation to Him -- as you pray what he would pray and walk where He would walk and do what he would do. Think of it this way: You, the Aaronic Priesthood, administer the ordinance of the Sacrament to the members; those of the Melchizedek Priesthood administer the ordinances of the Temple to the members. Both are sacred and holy; one preparatory for the other.
Thirty years ago, a friend told me one of the ways he remembered Jesus during the passing of the Sacrament. He would glance down at his own hands, clasped on his lap. He imagined for a few moments that they were the hands of Jesus. After all, he said, if we truly take upon us His Name -- and do what He would do, and Love as He would have us love -- we are instruments His hands in bringing to pass much righteousness. It helped my friend focus on Jesus in a personal way. Occasionally, I do the same. Note: A couple of the most famous paintings of Jesus in Gethsemane show Him with his hands clasped on a rock before Him.
To the children, why do we fold our arms, and bow our head? Doing this helps us focus our minds and hearts -- and our whole selves -- on Jesus, our Savior and Friend. It shows Him that we are willing to let Him guide our actions.
Little children, always remember that Jesus particularly loves you, and desires to bless you. He wants you to take time to think of Him and his love during this quite time; this will help prepare you to make and keep sacred covenants in the ordinances of baptism and of the Temple.
(When our daughters were young, Becky brought a homemade scripture “quiet book” -- and a laminated picture of Jesus -- for them to focus on. Lately, Becky and our daughter Carrie cut 20 or 30 pictures of Jesus from the Ensign, which they put in sheet protectors for our grandsons to look through during the Sacrament.)
During the week, we can remember to see Jesus in others. For, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” And, after all, when we are in the service of our fellow beings, we are only in the service of our God.
During each moment of every day, how can we “always remember him”? I have found that this is closely related to “praying always.” In a wonderful way, we can literally have a constant echo of all our studies and all our desires and all our prayers and all our service inform each and every thought. We may not be fully conscious of particular specific thoughts, but I testify that we can have a constant awareness, a constant closeness, a constant connection to and with our Savior. When we are proactive in letting Him in, and willingly letting our heart be soft (or broken) and our spirit open to where we can repent and improve (being contrite) then we can enjoy the sweet co-dependent blessings of “always remembering” along with “always having his spirit to be with us.”
THE POWER OF SYMBOLISM
Jesus taught using parables and symbols. Symbols, like music, have the power to infuse complex yet, paradoxically, simple, principles to our souls, integrating those divine principles -- and divinity itself -- into our minds and hearts.
In this next paragraph I’ve adapted Elder John A. Widtsoe’s teaching about symbols and Temple to the Sacrament:
Quote, “Mighty spiritual ordinances are carried on [weekly in our chapels]. The [Sacrament] is itself symbolic . . . a series of symbols of vast realities, too vast for full understanding. Those who [partake] and come out feeling that the service is unbeautiful have been so occupied with the outward form as to fail to understand the inner meaning. It is the meaning of things that counts in life.
(“We live in a world of symbols. We know nothing, except by symbols. We make a few marks on a sheet of paper, and we say that they form a word, which stands for love, or hate, or charity, or God or eternity. The marks (themselves) may not be very beautiful to the eye. No one finds fault with the symbols on the pages of a book because they are not as mighty in their own beauty as the things which they represent. We do not quarrel with the symbol G-o-d because it is not very beautiful, yet [it] represents the majesty of God. We are glad to have symbols, if only the meaning of the symbols is brought home to us. (Yes) we live in a world of symbols.”)
“No man or woman can come out of the [Sacrament meeting touched by the spirit] as he or she should be, unless he has seen, beyond the symbol, the mighty realities for which the symbols stand.” End Quote. (Elder John A. Widtsoe)
Elder Orson F. Whitney said when we partake of the “. . . the sacrament of the Lord's Supper . . . . [hearing] the blessing pronounced upon it by the priesthood, and [drinking in] the symbolism [of] those elements [which] represent something greater than themselves, namely, the body and blood of the Savior. . . . then [it] becomes a holy ordinance, of full force and effect, a poem in action.”
JESUS IS BREAD AND WATER
THE BREAD OF LIFE
Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger . . . .
“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 [body], which I . . . give for the life of the world. . . . Whoso eateth [in remembrance of ] my flesh, and drinketh [in remembrance of ] my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. . . . [and he] dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth [in remembrance of my body], even he shall live by me.” (John 6:35, 51, 54, 56, 57)
THE LIVING WATER
Likewise, Jesus, the Living Water, said whoso “believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)
And that “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly [or, rather, out of his inmost self] shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38)
In other words, His kind of life flows through and enlivens our own eternal spirit.
Regarding our drinking water in remembering His blood shed for us, He said, “. . . 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.” (D&C 27:2)
THE SACRAMENT INVITATION (COME UNTO ME)
He beckons unto us, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 28:28-30)
In Section 45 of the Doctrine and Covenants, Jesus explains why he suffered and died for us (one of my early favorite scriptures) “Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him— Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, . . . behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, . . . [and here is my favorite part:]; Wherefore, Father, spare these [who] believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”
Who can deny Jesus what he pleads for, what he lived and died for? Satan can’t. Heavenly Father won’t. Jesus will forever plead for us, and with us, and beckons to us: “Come unto me.”
In His great Intercessory Prayer which he offered just prior to turning himself over to the Roman soldiers we read these poignant words from Jesus about us -- about you and me.
“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come . . . . . . thou hast given [me] power over all flesh, that [I] should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given [me] . . . . . . . those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost. . . .”
(“13 And now come I to thee; . . . that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. . . . 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. . . . 20 . . . [I] . . . pray for them . . .. 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: . . . 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: . . .”)
And this touches deep in my soul: “Father, I will that they . . . be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. . . .”
(He concludes: “I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17))
Compare this reassuring revelation in Doctrine and Covenants section 50:
“40 Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.” (Yes, through “time and experience and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts.”) Jesus continues: “41 Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me; 42 And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost.”
His whole purpose in working out the Atonement is to draw us all unto him in love and recover all the Lost Sheep – as many as will.
THE SACRAMENT: EACH PHRASE
Regarding the simple yet powerful words of the sacrament . . .
As in the Temple, each word and phrase of the Sacrament prayers is filled with meaning after meaning. The words of the ordinance provide a lifetime of productive contemplative pondering. (Yet, they are plain and precious enough for the babe in the Gospel in remembering Him who gave so much for us and draws us unto him.)
(Again, as with the Temple, each word and phrase passes by relatively quickly, hence, we need to pay close attention -- with our heart -- such that we can apprehend their individual meaning AND their combined affect.)
We begin the prayer by pleading with God, our “Eternal Father.” A prophet of God has said that when we pass through the veil after death, we will be surprised at how well we know Him. After all, we have lived for time immemorial with our Father in the heavenly courts on high.
Next, we ask “in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ.” Elder Dallin Oaks wrote a whole book on what “the Name” means. I see the “Name” of Jesus as being synonymous with his Power, his Authority, his Will, his Nature. So, to me, we might consider that we are asking “in and by the power of Jesus Christ” -- all that He is and all that He did on our behalf.
Asking what? That our Father would “bless and sanctify this bread to [our] souls.” In other words, to our spirit and our body . . . to us. To me, this “partaking” can be seen as symbolic of taking his Nature – who He is -- into our selves. And this, by our living and seeing and caring as He does.
We “eat in remembrance of [His] body” -- his physicality, his reality, his having lived and died on this earth. No feeling or experience we experience has he not also felt or experienced, and more. Much more.
Next, by this public yet private partaking we “witness unto . . . the Eternal Father” -- and even to our brothers and sisters -- that . . . we “are willing to take upon [us] the name of thy Son.” At this point, we are not only asking “in his name” or Power, we declare that we are willing to take upon us His very self, his Name, his Nature, becoming more like him with every thought, with every desire, with every word, with every deed. With our whole selves.
Note, that our being “willing” does not denote being perfect, but it signifies we truly desire to turn out heart and our lives over to His ways, His will, His wants – not ours. We may stumble, but we return to this table each week already having repented. By our being truly willing, sin becomes less tempting, until we have no more desire for it.
Now, particularly, in the Sacrament we are, number one, willing to “always remember him.” If we remember, we see as He sees. If we remember, we speak as He speaks. If we remember, we reach out as he reaches out. If we remember, we love as He loves. Everyone. Even those who use and abuse and hate us.
And, number two, we also -- of our own free will and choice -- “keep his commandments.” This “keeping” is an outward expression of our inward commitment to “remember.” Keeping is not onerous. Keeping is not by force. Keeping is by love, and relation, and connection – connecting our heart and His.
Then, we are blessed with that blessing which constantly connects us to Divinity, that we “may always have his Spirit to be with [us]” -- if we will. I know by the whisperings of the Spirit, that the Father and the Son desire us to feel that close connection, that close bond, that close embrace. Always. Every moment. Today. Now.
We affirm this all with a humble “Amen.” We agree. Jesus, as per John, is the Great Amen. He is the Beginning and the End. He is the Life of the World and the Light of the World. As we offer our inmost heart’s Amen, we (again) rest in his Nature, his Grace, his Love.
The revealed prayer for the Water is somewhat shorter than that of the Bread.
Having already declared our “willingness” as we partook of the Bread -- and while we, of course, are still always willing -- perhaps the word “willing” being absent in this second prayer implies that we can now progress beyond simply being willing, to enjoying an actual Oneness and higher level of “remembering” where we “do” always truly “remember.” This inferred movement from being “willing” to a more perfect “doing” also assumes we will still “keep the commandments” which words are also not in this prayer, but which imply that we still not only “keep” them, but now have progressed beyond having to learn to keep them. “Keeping the commandments” can be thought of as second nature to us now, so closely are we wrapped in His Power – and this, because we have taken upon ourselves His Name, His Nature, His Will.
The prayer on the Water further personalizes the Atonement to us as individuals, as it overtly states that His blood was “shed for them” – meaning, for us, for me, for you. This phrase, “shed for them” reminds one of the phrase “given for them” in the prayer on the Bread regarding commandments. Hence, we might infer that we move from our “keeping” the outward commandments, to Jesus having shed His blood which makes our keeping efficacious.
Thus, the prayer on the Water narrows the focus on the two main principles: 1.) Remembering him, and 2.) thereby having his ‘his Spirit to be with” us.
(This, therefore, can be seen as a weekly help in our fulfilling the loving command to “Receive the Holy Ghost.” Prophets have declared that this is the greatest gift that can be received on earth. (Salvation being the greatest gift in the eternities.))
(John the Baptist said that Jesus “shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Luke reports that Jesus was “filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.” The Sacrament is the focal point for our receiving of this and His fullness.)
COMPARING BREAD AND WATER
Further comparing of the bread and water . . .
I can imagine the Bread signifying His Yoke, and the Water signifying His Burden.
Paradoxically, and comfortingly, as we partake, our yoke becomes easy, and our burden becomes light. (“For” He says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”)
I can imagine the Bread signifying Resurrection . . . and the Water signifying The Life. “Jesus said . . . I am the resurrection, and the life . . . .” (Matthew 25)
I can imagine the Bread signifying His Work (or Immortality) . . . and the Water signifying His Glory (or Eternal Life). For, said He, “This is my Work and my Glory to bring to pass the immortality and the eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)
I can imagine the Bread signifying the Beginning and the Cup signifying the End of the Atonement He has wrought. “I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” (3 Nephi 9:18)
I can imagine partaking of the Bread as signifying the Outward, the Outer, or, Real Life found in this physical world. Living the life we must lead, in a physical world of action, and in our offering tangible blessing others. In other words, doing.
In like manner, I can imagine our drinking of the Cup as signifying the Inner, or, Eternal Life found in the eternal world. Our being alive to the supposedly intangible inner world of the spirit, and the spiritual life we must receive. In other words, being (or, becoming).
In October General Conference, President Monson asked that we learn what we should learn, so that . . . we would do what we should do, and be what we should be.
Partaking of the Sacrament helps us to remember to always remember.
( Yes, “The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out.”)
DREAM OF SAVIOR (GO TO SACRAMENT TABLE)
Elder Melvin J. Ballard wrote this of a dream he had of the Savior, quote:
“I found myself one evening in the dreams of the night in that sacred building, the temple. After a season of prayer and rejoicing I was informed that I should have the privilege of entering into one of those rooms, to meet a glorious Personage, and, as I entered the door, I saw . . . the most glorious Being my eyes have ever beheld or that I ever conceived existed in all the eternal worlds. As I approached to be introduced, he arose and stepped towards me with extended arms, and he smiled as he softly spoke my name. . . . I shall never forget that smile. He took me into his arms and kissed me, pressed me to his bosom, and blessed me, until the marrow of my bones seemed to melt! When he had finished, I fell at his feet, and, as I bathed them with my tears and kisses, . . . The feeling that I had in [His] presence . . . to have his love, his affection, and his blessing was such that . . . I would give all that I am, all that I ever hope to be, to feel what I then felt!
“Go to the sacrament table. Ah, that is a blessed privilege that I now rejoice in . . . I [desire], as I felt then, to stand in his presence and [keep] his commandments and honor… him by bearing witness, before the Father and before men, that I believe in him, and that I take upon me his blessed Name, and that I live by and through him spiritually.
“If we can bring our boys and girls to feel the need of this thing, they will be at sacrament meeting, and we will be there. I see Jesus not now upon the cross. I do not see his brow pierced with thorns nor his hands torn with the nails, but I see him smiling, with extended arms, saying to us all: ‘Come unto me!’”
POOR, BROKEN, CAPTIVE, BLIND, BRUISED
In conclusion: After spending forty day and nights fasting and being tempted, Jesus walked out of the desert and straight into a synagogue. They handed Him the scrolls, the scriptures, turned to Isaiah.
He read aloud, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, . . . And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. . . . He [said] unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” (Luke 4:18-21)
I bear witness that this scripture can be fulfilled in each of our lives -- we who are poor, or brokenhearted, or captive, or blind, or bruised. We can be healed and become One and whole, as we truly and always remember Him. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Master. Amen.
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By Scott L. Vanatter