In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the sacrament is a simple ordinance in which bread and water are offered to each member of the Church as an invitation to remember the Savior and to participate in the blessings of the atonement.
One of the phrases in Doctrine and Covenants 59:9 commands Church members to “offer up a sacrament.” Verse 12 reads: “On this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer . . . thy sacraments unto the Most High.” And another scripture says: “Assemble yourselves…and offer a sacrament unto the Most High” (D&C 62:4).
The command to offer a sacrament (as opposed to partaking of the sacrament) suggests that we should be honoring the sacrifice of the Savior by offering a sacrifice of our own.
The Lord commands us: “Offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (D&C 59:8).
With our humble hearts and our penitent spirits we present ourselves before the Lord at the sacrament table with a desire to be made clean by the miracle of his atonement.
Keeping Ourselves Unspotted From the World
To this end, we are taught: “And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day” (D&C 59:9).
We must keep ourselves unspotted from the world. This is one of the great purposes of the Sabbath and the sacrament. The command to offer up a sacrament teaches us how we keep ourselves unspotted.
No More Shedding of Blood
In ancient Israel, repentant people brought appropriate animals to the priest who put them on the altar and killed them as a preview of the sacrifice of Christ, and as a part of the process of repentance.
In our day we are commanded to offer up our own sacrifices (our sacraments) and to place something other than animals on the altar. We must place our sins the altar.
Yes, we still have a type of altar. In the Mormon faith altars are called sacrament tables. The priests still preside there. And there is a sacrifice on the altar–the emblems of Jesus’ great and last sacrifice, which are represented by the bread and water of the sacrament.
The bread and water remind us of Jesus’ flesh and blood that he sacrificed to save us. He invites us to place our sins on that altar and sacrifice them so that we can be free of them and become one with him.
A Sacrifice From Our Own Lives
J Reuben Clark, a former apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said,
“Up to the time of Christ…the peoples of the world…worshiped with the ritual which…looked forward to the sacrifice of the Son….The sacrifice was always vicarious. Animals were…sacrificed…under the Mosaic Law, for the sins of the individual and for the sins of the people….
“But under the new covenant that came in with Christ, the sinner must offer the sacrifice out of his own life, not by offering the blood of some other creature; he must give up his sins, he must repent, he himself must make the sacrifice, and that sacrifice was calculated to reach out into the life of the sinner in the future so that he would become a better and changed man” (Behold the Lamb of God, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., 107-108).
Another modern-day apostle, Neal A. Maxwell, said it this way:
“So it is that real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!” (Ensign, May 1995).
As we partake of the sacrament, we engage in an activity designed to help us offer the sacrifice the Lord has required of us. This is what it means to offer a sacramentto offer our humility and our repentance, and to put our sins on the altar and ask the Lord to consume them.
The Importance of the Sacrament
As we have learned, an important purpose of the sacrament is to help us always remember Jesus and his atoning sacrifice for us. We see this purpose portrayed in the Book of Mormon when the Savior visited those people after his resurrection.
When Jesus had taught and healed the people, he announced that he must depart from them. But as he looked upon them, he saw that they were in tears, longing for him to stay with them. He had compassion and agreed to stay a little longer to provide a sweet, sacred experience, and then to institute the sacrament.
He knew that he could not remain with them, so he provided the sacrament to help them remember him! Significantly, when he returned to minister to them the next day, he provided the sacrament again. That repetition is a powerful witness of the importance of this ordinance. We need to participate in the sacrament frequently, because we need to remember Jesus always and we constantly need to be cleansed from sin.
We wash our clothes regularly because we know that without frequent cleaning they will become filthy. Without the regular removal of the sins, we would become and remain filthy. And that condition would prohibit us from returning to God someday. The Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, taught, “I say unto you, the kingdom of God is not filthy, and there cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God” (1 Nephi 15:34).
There is another verse in the Book of Mormon that suggests the importance of frequently partaking of the sacrament. “Therefore, I would that ye should behold that the Lord truly did teach the people, for the space of three days; and after that he did show himself unto them oft, and did break bread oft, and bless it, and give it unto them” (3 Nephi 26:13).
The Savior came to visit the people often, and every time He came, He prepared, and blessed, and gave the people the sacrament.
How frightening it would be for us to miss any opportunity to go to the house of prayer, participate in the sacrament, and offer our sacrifices to the Lord.