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The most important events of eternity often pass without much worldly attention. Such were the events in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter, James, and John were the only witnesses to the transcendent suffering of the Savior, and even they slept through much of it. His decision to accept the bitter cup had ramifications for every person who had ever lived, and yet, except for these three, no one alive was aware of what was happening.
But God the Father knew. It must have wrenched His heartstrings to hear His Son plead, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). The Father knew that there was no other way to provide eternal life for His children, but through the suffering of His faithful Son. He sent an angel to comfort Him, someone who could understand, to some degree, the magnitude of the decision He was about to make. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22:43).
The Purifying Power of Gethsemane
Elder Bruce R. McConkie chose to speak about the Atonement of Christ in his final Conference address:
[The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ] is the most transcendent event that ever has or ever will occur from Creation’s dawn through all the ages of a never-ending eternity.
It is the supreme act of goodness and grace that only a god could perform. Through it, all of the terms and conditions of the Father’s eternal plan of salvation became operative.
This sacred spot, like Eden where Adam dwelt, like Sinai from whence Jehovah gave his laws, like Calvary where the Son of God gave his life a ransom for many, this holy ground is where the Sinless Son of the Everlasting Father took upon himself the sins of all men on condition of repentance.
We know that an angel came from the courts of glory to strengthen him in his ordeal, and we suppose it was mighty Michael, who foremost fell that mortal man might be. (“The Purifying Power of Gethsemane,” Ensign, April, 1985)
In Gethsemane, we see two men who in two gardens, made the decision to die so that mankind may live. Without that decision to bring mortality, which includes procreation and death, into the world, man would not have come to be. “If Adam had not transgressed . . . he would have had no children. . . having no joy. . . Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2: 22-25).
Elder McConkie continues,
As Adam brought death, so Christ brought life; as Adam is the father of mortality, so Christ is the father of immortality. As we read, ponder, and pray, there will come into our minds a view of the three gardens of God—the Garden of Eden, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Garden of the Empty Tomb where Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene.
In Eden we will see all things created in a paradisiacal state—without death, without procreation, without probationary experiences. Then in Gethsemane we will see the Son of God ransom man from the temporal and spiritual death that came to us because of the Fall. And finally, before an empty tomb, we will come to know that Christ our Lord has burst the bands of death and stands forever triumphant over the grave. (McConkie, 1985)
As you learn about what happened in Gethsemane, it might be interesting to know that Gethsemane was a garden of olive trees and included an olive press, used to crush olives and extract oil used for lighting and food as well as healing (see Luke 10:34). The process of using a heavy weight to extract olive oil can symbolize the weight of sin and pain that the Savior bore for us (see D. Todd Christofferson, “Abide in My Love,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2016, 50–51).
Years ago, I was fortunate to be able to visit the BYU Jerusalem Center and observe the equipment used by the students there to extract oil from olives. They spent hours on chairs and ladders, plucking olives from the several olive trees at the Center. They put the olives into bags which were stored until they were ready to press them. At pressing time, the olives would be poured into a large stone basin for crushing. Then they would roll a giant stone wheel over the top of the olives, crushing them. Although I was not present during the actual event, I heard the instructors tell us that there was an audible gasp from the students as a red colored fluid oozed off the baskets in the press. The red color would remain until the particulate matter had settled leaving the pure olive oil on top. This was powerful symbolism indeed.
One student wrote, “The metaphor of the olive press has been helpful for me in describing the great suffering that began in Gethsemane and ended on Calvary. Through this metaphor, my finite mind is given spiritual spectacles that allow me to see and better understand the infinite and eternal nature of the atonement. From what I have learned, the process of extracting oil from olives begins with the picking and then bruising and crushing of the fruit. The crushed and broken fruit is then collected into baskets which are stacked one upon the other. They are then placed under the press where tremendous pressure is applied to them. This process slowly crushes the oil from the fruit. The pressure that is applied is firm and fierce, steadily increasing over time until the red stained oil contained therein is extracted from the once unblemished fruit.”
The Lamb of God
Jeffrey R. Holland spoke in April 2019 General Conference on the subject, The Lamb of God. He said that sacrament meeting is the most sacred hour of our week. He described the reasons for this by reciting the details of the Savior’s ministry, and the events that led up to the Passover where He instituted the sacrament ritual.
Looking up from water’s edge, past the eager crowds seeking baptism at his hand, John, called the Baptist, saw in the distance his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, striding resolutely toward him to make a request for that same ordinance. Reverently, but audible enough for those nearby to hear, John uttered the admiration that still moves us two millennia later: “Behold the Lamb of God.”
It is instructive that this long-prophesied forerunner to Jesus did not call Him “Jehovah” or “Savior” or “Redeemer” or even “the Son of God”—all of which were applicable titles. No, John chose the earliest and perhaps most commonly recognized image in the religious tradition of his people. He used the figure of a sacrificial lamb offered in atonement for the sins and sorrows of a fallen world and all the fallen people in it.
After Adam experienced spiritual separation from the presence of God, he no doubt wondered how they would ever be able to get out of their plight. We do not know just how much they remembered about the instructions they had received in the Garden of Eden, but they did remember they were instructed to regularly offer for a sacrifice unto God a pure, unblemished lamb, the first male born of their flock.
Later, an angel came to explain that this sacrifice was a type, a prefiguration of the offering that would be in their behalf by the Savior of the world who was to come. The angel said, “This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.”
In the premortal councils of heaven, God had promised Adam and Eve (and all the rest of us) that help would come from His pure, unblemished Firstborn Son, the Lamb of God “slain from the foundation of the world,” as the Apostle John would later describe Him. By offering their own little symbolic lambs in mortality, Adam and his posterity were expressing their understanding and their dependence upon the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the Anointed One. Later, the wilderness Tabernacle would become the setting for this ordinance, and after that the temple that Solomon would build.
Unfortunately, as a symbol of genuine repentance and faithful living, this ritualistic offering of unblemished little lambs didn’t work very well, as so much of the Old Testament reveals. The moral resolve that should have accompanied those sacrifices sometimes didn’t last long enough for the blood to dry upon the stones. . .
Following His brief mortal ministry, this purest of all Passover sheep prepared His disciples for His death by introducing the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, a more personal form of the ordinance that had been introduced just outside of Eden. There would still be an offering, it would still involve a sacrifice, but it would be with symbolism much deeper, much more introspective and personal than the bloodletting of a firstborn lamb.
Elder Holland quoted 3 Nephi 9:19-20 and 22, which states that the blood sacrifice would be replaced by a sacrifice of “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” He emphasized that the modified Sunday service has the purpose “to reduce the complexity of the meeting schedule in a way that properly emphasizes the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as the sacred, acknowledged focal point of our weekly worship experience. We are to remember, in as personal a way as possible, that Christ died from a heart broken by shouldering entirely alone the sins and sorrows of the whole human family. He emphasized that such a moment demands our respect. He said that “this hour is the most sacred hour of the week.”
To help us remember with awe the sacredness of the sacramental ordinance, he said this, “By commandment, we gather for the most universally received ordinance in the Church. It is in memory of Him who asked if the cup He was about to drink could pass, only to press on because He knew that for our sake it could not pass. It will help us if we remember that a symbol of that cup is slowly making its way down the row toward us at the hand of an 11- or 12-year-old deacon.” Christ partook of the bitter cup Himself (D&C 19:18) but He only asks us to partake of the sacrament cup.
Elder Holland suggests that “one way to “always remember him” would be to join the Great Physician in His never-ending task of lifting the load from those who are burdened and relieving the pain of those who are distraught.”
The Importance of Remembering
Remembering is a powerful and necessary experience. President Spencer W. Kimball once said that the most important word in the dictionary could be the word remember. (Spencer W. Kimball, “Circles of Exaltation,” in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982), 12.) He explained the power of this word as he said, “I suppose there would never be an apostate, there would never be a crime, if people remembered, really remembered, the things they had covenanted at the water’s edge or at the sacrament table and in the temple. I suppose that is the reason the Lord asked Adam to offer sacrifices, for no other reason than that he and his posterity would remember—remember the basic things that they had been taught. Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), 112.
Matthew O. Richardson pointed out many vital insights in his BYU Religious Studies article entitled Sacramental Connections: Deliverance, Redemption, and Safety, in You Shall Have My Word: Exploring the Text of the Doctrine and Covenants, ed. Scott C. Esplin, Richard O. Cowan, and Rachel Cope (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012), 75–91.
It was revealed to Joseph Smith that “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament” (D&C 27:2). While this may appear to be a simple administrative detail, it actually underscores the vital purpose of the sacrament itself—to completely focus our thoughts on the events of our deliverance. This textual passage actually underscores that the emblems used for sacramental worship are just that—emblems. As such, their purpose is nothing more and nothing less than turning our attention to a greater event, to focus our thoughts and feelings, and to remember the past in such a way as to make it not only relevant but very real. This means that any emblem, including the bread or the water, which distracts from the singular purpose of reminding us of the Savior’s Atonement, is ineffective or, in other words, it is used in vain. As such, those who prepare and pass the emblems of the sacrament must be vigilant in their duty, for they may unwittingly distract from the sacrament ritual in the way they prepare, bless, and present the sacramental emblems.
Tokens or emblems sharpen our focus and through tangible connectors help us remember events and concepts we hope to never forget. For example, many married couples exchange and wear rings as an emblem or symbol of their marriage. This particular emblem shows others that a person is married, but even more importantly, it reminds the married person of his or her spouse and of what is expected of a married person. Thus, when glancing at a wedding band, vivid memories and feelings return to the day when covenants were made. Remembering that event may actually inspire married individuals to renew their efforts and act accordingly. In this way, tokens or emblems that symbolize something from the past reconnect those events with the present in tangible and meaningful ways.
The sacrament is a consecrated event. Therefore, we must remember and focus on the past just as covenant Israel did during Passover. They intentionally looked to their past and remembered how they were miraculously delivered from captivity, oppression, angst, and despair. Likewise, Latter-day Saints also look to the past and remember the events that miraculously delivered them from captivity, oppression, angst, and despair, in any form. The Atonement is the genesis of our redemption, and if the present and the future do not connect with it, they hold very little prospect.
I gained additional insights from an Education Week presentation by Matthew Richardson in 2008 called “The Doctrine and Covenants and Sacramental Connections.” He quoted Joseph Fielding Smith saying, “The Sacrament meeting of the Church is the most important meeting which we have, and it is sadly neglected by many members” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:340-344). How can this be? We all make quite an effort to be at our Sacrament Meetings. What can he possibly mean?
Brother Richardson researched the roots of the word neglect and found that it comes from the Latin root neglectus which means “not pick up.” We would say, “I didn’t GET it. I think he meant that we don’t GET the sacrament. We fail to comprehend the significance of it. The word sacrament literally means, a “consecration,” or “to make something intensely holy.” He said that he looks at his wedding ring as a “sacrament” or reminder of the sacredness of his wedding vows. He is reminded of the kind of husband he wants to be.
He told about visiting the beaches of Normandy. After seeing what took place in that “holy” place, and what those men gave up in order to preserve our freedom, he vowed to be a better citizen. He said he had new respect for Joseph Smith after visiting Carthage. Somehow, that place was sacred space.
Somehow, we need to revisit Gethsemane and have new AWE for the magnitude of the Atonement and its infinite ramifications! Do we sometimes take the sacrament by rote? I’m afraid we all do – much too often.
Howard W. Hunter said that much like the Jewish seder, which was an ancient covenant of protection, the sacrament offers us the protection of spiritual armor to withstand the evils of the latter day. (D&C 27:5, 15) The “wherefore” in verse 15 refers to verse 5, where the Savior promises to come to “drink the fruit of the vine with you on the earth.” Because of this, we should, (v.15) “lift up your hearts and rejoice, and gird up your loins (that is, roll up our sleeves and get to work), and put on my whole armor, that ye may be able to withstand the evil day, having done all, that you may be able to stand.” I think that it means be able to MAKE A STAND for righteousness. Thus, reinforcing the tie from REMEMBERING the sacred events in Gethsemane, to our actions in the FUTURE. I need to do better at this! I need that POWER!
I was moved by the remarks of Elder Kim B. Clark in the April 2019 General Conference. I would like to borrow a phrase from his address. He suggested that we not only remember Jesus Christ, but that we become “riveted” on the Savior and His gospel. Elder Clark attributes this phrase to President Russell M. Nelson, who said, “There is nothing easy or automatic about becoming such powerful disciples. Our focus must be riveted on the Savior and His gospel. It is mentally rigorous to strive to look unto Him in every thought.” (“Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives,” Ensign, May 2017, 41)
The Sacramental Prayers
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland talked about the significance of the language used in the sacramental prayers. (October General Conference, 1995)
In the simple and beautiful language of the sacramental prayers those young priests offer, the principal word we hear seems to be remember. In the first and slightly longer prayer offered over the bread, mention is made of a willingness to take upon us the name of the Son of God and to keep the commandments he has given us.
Neither of those phrases is repeated in the blessing on the water, though surely both are assumed and expected. What is stressed in both prayers is that all of this is done in remembrance of Christ. In so participating we witness that we will always remember him, that we may always have his Spirit to be with us (see D&C 20:77, 79).
If remembering is the principal task before us, what might come to our memory when those plain and precious emblems are offered to us?
We could remember the Savior’s premortal life and all that we know him to have done as the great Jehovah, creator of heaven and earth and all things that in them are. We could remember that even in the Grand Council of Heaven he loved us and was wonderfully strong, that we triumphed even there by the power of Christ and our faith in the blood of the Lamb (see Rev. 12:10–11).
We could remember the simple grandeur of his mortal birth to just a young woman, one probably in the age range of those in our Young Women organization, who spoke for every faithful woman in every dispensation of time when she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).
We could remember his magnificent but virtually unknown foster father, a humble carpenter by trade who taught us, among other things, that quiet, plain, unpretentious people have moved this majestic work forward from the very beginning, and still do so today. If you are serving almost anonymously, please know that so, too, did one of the best men who has ever lived on this earth.
We could remember Christ’s miracles and his teachings, his healings and his help. We could remember that he gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and motion to the lame and the maimed and the withered. Then, on those days when we feel our progress has halted or our joys and views have grown dim, we can press forward steadfastly in Christ, with unshaken faith in him and a perfect brightness of hope (see 2 Ne. 31:19–20).
We could remember that even with such a solemn mission given to him, the Savior found delight in living; he enjoyed people and told his disciples to be of good cheer. He said we should be as thrilled with the gospel as one who had found a great treasure, a veritable pearl of great price, right on our own doorstep. We could remember that Jesus found special joy and happiness in children and said all of us should be more like them—guileless and pure, quick to laugh and to love and to forgive, slow to remember any offense.
We could remember that Christ called his disciples friends, and that friends are those who stand by us in times of loneliness or potential despair. We could remember a friend we need to contact or, better yet, a friend we need to make. In doing so, we could remember that God often provides his blessings through the compassionate and timely response of another. For someone nearby we may be the means of heaven’s answer to a very urgent prayer.
We could—and should—remember the wonderful things that have come to us in our lives and that “all things which are good cometh of Christ” (Moro. 7:24). Those of us who are so blessed could remember the courage of those around us who face more difficulty than we, but who remain cheerful, who do the best they can, and trust that the Bright and Morning Star will rise again for them—as surely he will do (see Rev. 22:16).
On some days we will have cause to remember the unkind treatment he received, the rejection he experienced, and the injustice—oh, the injustice—he endured. When we, too, then face some of that in life, we can remember that Christ was also troubled on every side, but not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed (see 2 Cor. 4:8–9).
When those difficult times come to us, we can remember that Jesus had to descend below all things before he could ascend above them, and that he suffered pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind that he might be filled with mercy and know how to succor his people in their infirmities (see D&C 88:6; Alma 7:11–12)
Elder Holland emphasizes the promise the Lord makes to us in the sacramental prayers – “That we may always have his Spirit to be with us.” In their book The Contrite Spirit, Bruce and Marie Hafen relate a story about their two-year old son. When they attempted to leave him to go out together, he put up his arms and said, “With you, mommy! With you!” They chose this poignant cry as the name of their group at a conference – “With You.” To me, this simple story speaks volumes. Don’t we all cry, “With you!” from the depth of our souls?
The ancient Israelites understood the critical nature of covenant making to the degree that it became a defining aspect of their culture. In the Ancient Near East, covenants were made in a very graphic way — by cutting. In fact, to make a covenant in Hebrew is carat berit, or to CUT a covenant. Our common phrase today, “to cut a deal,” goes back to ancient Israel, where the Israelites would stand between the two portions of an animal they had cut in half and offered as a ritual sacrifice to the Lord. The sacrifice was done in the similitude of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The implication was, that if they did not adhere to the terms of the covenant they then vowed before God, they would suffer the same end as that of the animal before them.
In Genesis 15:7, God tells Abraham that he will give him this land for an inheritance. In the following verse, Abraham asks God how he would know that God will honor His promises to him. In verses 9-10, God tells Abraham to cut several animals in half (3 heifers, 3 goats, 3 rams, a turtledove, and a pigeon.) After the sun went down, “a smoking furnace” passed between the halves of the animals to seal the covenant, no doubt representing the Lord. (Gen. 15:17-18) Thus, seeing God “cut” this covenant with him, Abraham was assured the God would keep His promises to him. Not that in this case, it was the blood of the sacrifice that made the covenant binding, just as the Atonement of Jesus Christ has a similar effect upon all our covenants.
(We see a similar such example of a simile curse in the Book of Mormon when Moroni made a banner out of his torn coat in order to inspire the Nephite people to defend their religion, freedom, peace, and families. (See Alma 46:12-13) Those who would maintain the title entered into a covenant. After Moroni proclaimed these words, the people “came running together with their armor girded about their loins, rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the Lord their God; or, in other words, if they should transgress the commandments of God, or fall into transgression, and be ashamed to take upon them the name of Christ, the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments. Now this was the covenant which they made, and they cast their garments at the feet of Moroni, saying: We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we shall fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression” (Alma 46:20-22).
Jeremiah 34:17-20 further illustrates the widespread use of this practice. The Lord first chides the people for not releasing their indentured servants after seven years as they had covenanted to do in the temple. Then he promises that He will give them into the hand of their enemies, and their dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of heaven. All this will come because they “have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made unto me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof” (verse 18).
“That Ye May Be One”
I was intrigued by an idea presented by Terryl and Fiona Givens in their book The Crucible of Doubt. “On the occasion of the Last Supper, and knowing He would not remain in person to shepherd His disciples to eternal life, Jesus instituted a practice to keep them centered and mindful of their faith’s core. “This do in remembrance of me,” He said in consecrating the symbols of His own broken and bleeding body, sacrificed on our behalf. Then, praying for His disciples, He indicated precisely what He hoped for them in His absence. He prayed for their unity (“that they may be one, even as we are one”), their sanctification (“sanctify them through thy truth”), and their perfection (“that they might be perfect”). Presumably, the symbolism He instituted in the Last Supper was related to what He prayed would be their destiny, the effects it pointed them toward. Partaking of the sacrament, mindful of its meaning was intended to move them toward greater unity with their fellow believers – in similitude of Christ’s unity with the Father – growing holiness, and eventual return to the Divine Family (p. 41.)
They extended this idea into our Sunday worship as a whole. “To put this more simply, the purposes for which we go to church should be to reenact, in microcosm, the motivations and objectives that Jesus had in laying down His life for us. By coming together in community, serving and ministering to each other, sacrificing selflessly and loving unfailingly, we grow united, sanctified, and perfected in the body of Christ. As the moral lesson without parallel and the basis of our own salvation and the world’s hope, the Atonement fittingly serves as the focal point of our Sunday worship.” (Ibid., 42)
The Givens concede that most of us “get this,” if only vaguely. We know that the purpose of our Sabbath observance is to “partake of the Lord’s Supper,” but we sometimes become frustrated with the peripherals – “the mediocre talk, the overbearing counselor, the lesson read straight from the manual.” What if we viewed these things as the equivalent of the widow’s mite? What if we viewed these offerings in terms of the “capacity of the giver,” rather than in the value received? We are given the opportunity to exercise patience and mercy. They ask, “if we insist on measuring our worship service in terms of what we ‘get out of’ the meeting, then perhaps we have erred in our understanding of worship.”
Christ utilizes the Passover meal, which commemorates the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, and changes it into the ordinance of the sacrament. The Passover meal has a dialogue in which the youngest member of the family asks, “Why do we eat unleavened bread and eat bitter herbs during this time?” The answer is so that the people will REMEMBER the things the Lord did for them in delivering them from captivity. As Christ changes this ceremony into the sacrament, new symbols are created. The unleavened bread becomes the sacrament bread, which symbolizes the sacrifice of the Bread of Life that they might live. The wine, or water, is also symbolic. Wine is symbolic of blood, which was shed so that atonement could be made. Even the water, which has replaced the sacramental wine, is symbolic of the Living Water that Christ promised to the Samaritan woman and which He promises to all that seek Him.
Brother Richardson adds the insight that the Passover rituals had the purpose of directing the minds of the Israelites to consider their future redemption, as well as remembering their redemption from slavery.
Remembering the past is only effectual if it informs future events. Covenant Israel, for example, used the Passover to remember their great day of deliverance but perhaps failed to use the Passover’s lessons of the past to inform and direct their view for future redemption. As a result, they did not recognize the Savior and crucified Him instead of receiving Him wholeheartedly. Likewise, Latter-day Saints may use the sacrament to remember the Atonement but then fail to use the sacrament to inform and direct their attention to a time when they might be with the Savior when He comes again.
Directing our minds to the future has always been a key component of the sacrament. For example, as Christ first instituted the sacramental wine during his mortal ministry, he said to his Apostles, “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). Even at that first sacrament meeting, the Savior was encouraging His disciples to look forward with anticipation to a future meeting—when Jesus and disciples would gather together again to partake of the sacrament.
In October 1995 Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland asked a poignant question:
The Savior’s spiritual suffering and the shedding of his innocent blood, so lovingly and freely given, paid the debt for what the scriptures call the “original guilt” of Adam’s transgression (Moses 6:54). Furthermore, Christ suffered for the sins and sorrows and pains of all the rest of the human family, providing remission for all of our sins as well, upon conditions of obedience to the principles and ordinances of the gospel he taught (see 2 Ne. 9:21–23). As the Apostle Paul wrote, we were “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). What an expensive price and what a merciful purchase!
That is why every ordinance of the gospel focuses in one way or another on the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, and surely that is why this particular ordinance with all its symbolism and imagery comes to us more readily and more repeatedly than any other in our life. It comes in what has been called “the most sacred, the most holy, of all the meetings of the Church” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 2:340).
Perhaps we do not always attach that kind of meaning to our weekly sacramental service. How “sacred” and how “holy” is it? Do we see it as our Passover, remembrance of our safety and deliverance and redemption?
Indeed, do we think of the sacrament as our personal Passover?
How to Get the Most Out of Sacrament Meetings
Our mission president in the Long Beach Mission talked to the elders and sisters in Zone Conference about how they could get the most out of Sacrament meetings. First, he talked about the importance of arriving very early when attending meetings. This is so that we are not rushed and we can have access to the Spirit more easily. Apparently, the Spirit hates to be rushed. He emphasized that if we are late and sit in the foyer, we miss an important part of the sacrament. Watching the bread be broken is part of the sacrament service. The disciples watched Jesus break bread as part of the ordinance that symbolized his broken body. If we miss seeing this, we miss out on part of the whole sacrament experience. This was a totally new thought to me, and it really enriched the experience for me.
Adding to this idea was Elder Christofferson’s explanation of the bread of life sermon in October 2017 Conference. I loved his comment that each individual is as different as the broken pieces of bread are different. I loved learning that “Holiness to the Lord” was once inscribed on sacrament cups and trays.
President Patterson also talked to them about how we become the salt of the earth. When we enter the COVENANT with Jesus Christ at baptism, we become the salt of the earth. In the Old Testament, salt was used in the ceremony of making covenants, and salt was considered to be the SYMBOL of the covenant. Therefore, each week when you take the sacrament, you become a little “saltier.” (In 60’s slang, “salty” meant “cool.”)
The Sacrament Is a Time to Examine Ourselves
Years ago, I took a wonderful New Testament class taught by S. Michael Wilcox. At that time, the idea of examining myself during the sacrament service made a great impact on me.
Brother Wilcox gave us a little background on why Paul was writing to the Corinthian saints. He felt that they were mocking the observance of the sacrament. Their greed is clearly manifest – they were gorging themselves on the consecrated bread and wine, and on the common meal that was associated with the ceremony. Paul’s message was clear, church was not the place to satisfy physical appetite. The sacrament of the Lord’s supper is a solemn moment.
Paul tells the story of Christ instituting the ordinance of the sacrament. (Apparently there were no Greek gospels in existence at this time. Likely Mark and Luke were written a few years later.) There is much more here in this epistle than just the retelling of the story and the Corinthians’ abuses. Paul gives detailed insights into the purpose of the ceremony, as recorded in 1 Corinthians 11.
Firstly, the sacrament is a MEMORIAL. “The Lord Jesus . . . took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, “This cup is the new testament (Greek diathaykay, which means covenant) in my blood: this do ye, as aft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.” (verses 23-25)
As we partake of the broken bread, we are to remember the broken body of Christ. Through His resurrection physical death was overcome. As we partake of the water/wine, we are to remember the blood that was shed on our behalf in Gethsemane and on Calvary that we might overcome spiritual death.
Secondly, the sacrament is a TESTIMONIAL. In partaking the sacrament, we bear testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and our belief in it. Verse 26 reads, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” The Greek word translated as shew means “proclaim or announce.” In other words, when we take the emblems of the sacrament, we are bearing our testimony of Him.
Thirdly, the sacrament is a time for SELF EXAMINATION. “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” (verses 28 and 31) If we examine ourselves weekly, we won’t have to be judged at the judgment. Before taking these symbols, we are obligated to consider whether our lives are in harmony with God’s will.
The fourth point, COMMUNION, is taken from 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.” The sacrament creates a wonderful fellowship between all the members of the ward or church- a special fellowship of partnership. In Paul’s letters, one has fellowship with the Church and with heaven if one’s life is in order. The sacrament is a good opportunity to forgive someone you need to forgive. The Greek word is koinonia which means common sharing, fellowship, and unity.
And finally, the sacrament is a RENEWAL of the COVENANT of baptism. Referring back to verse 25 of chapter 11, shown above, when we partake of the emblems of the sacrament, we are making the same promises that we made at the time we were baptized. That is, we promise to take His name upon us, obey His commandments, and always remember Him. (Actually, we promise to be “willing” to do these things in the prayer on the bread. In the second prayer, the word “willing” is absent. We promise to remember Him, not just be willing to remember Him. This is something even the weakest among us can do.)
When Jesus sat down with the twelve, he told them that one of them would betray Him. Every one of them began to say to Him, “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:22) Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf talked about this in the Priesthood Session of October 2014 General Conference.
My dear brethren, will you please look inside your hearts and ask the simple question: “Lord, is it I?” Have you disengaged—even slightly—from “the … gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to [your] trust”? (1 Tim. 1:11) Have you allowed “the god of this world” to darken your minds to “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ”? (2 Cor. 4:4)
My beloved friends, my dear brethren, ask yourselves, “Where is my treasure?” Is your heart set on the convenient things of this world, or is it focused on the teachings of the diligent Jesus Christ? “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Does the Spirit of God dwell in your hearts? Are you “rooted and grounded” in the love of God and of your fellowmen? Do you devote sufficient time and creativity to bringing happiness to your marriage and family? Do you give your energies to the sublime goal of comprehending and living “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” (Eph. 3:18) of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ?
If it is your great desire to cultivate Christlike attributes of “faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, [and service],” Heavenly Father will make you an instrument in His hands unto the salvation of many souls. . . None of us likes to admit when we are drifting off the right course. Often, we try to avoid looking deeply into our souls and confronting our weaknesses, limitations, and fears. Consequently, when we do examine our lives, we look through the filter of biases, excuses, and stories we tell ourselves in order to justify unworthy thoughts and actions.
But being able to see ourselves clearly is essential to our spiritual growth and well-being. If our weaknesses and shortcomings remain obscured in the shadows, then the redeeming power of the Savior cannot heal them and make them strengths. Ironically, our blindness toward our human weaknesses will also make us blind to the divine potential that our Father yearns to nurture within each of us.
So how can we shine the pure light of God’s truth into our souls and see ourselves as He sees us? May I suggest that the holy scriptures and the talks given at general conference are an effective mirror we can hold up for self-examination. As you hear or read the words of the ancient and modern prophets, refrain from thinking about how the words apply to someone else and ask the simple question: “Lord, is it I?”
We must approach our Eternal Father with broken hearts and teachable minds. We must be willing to learn and to change. And, oh, how much we gain by committing to live the life our Heavenly Father intends for us.
Brethren, we must put aside our pride, see beyond our vanity, and in humility ask, “Lord, is it I?” And if the Lord’s answer happens to be “Yes, my son, there are things you must improve, things I can help you to overcome,” I pray that we will accept this answer, humbly acknowledge our sins and shortcomings, and then change our ways by becoming better husbands, better fathers, better sons. May we from this time forward seek with all our might to walk steadfastly in the Savior’s blessed way—for seeing ourselves clearly is the beginning of wisdom.
As we do so, our bountiful God will lead us by the hand; we will “be made strong, and blessed from on high.” (D&C 1:28) My beloved friends, a first step on this wondrous and fulfilling path of true discipleship starts with our asking the simple question: “Lord, is it I?”
We become more Christlike when we choose to submit our will to the Father’s.
It is always difficult to read Matthew 26:39, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Even the Savior was overwhelmed with the thought of what He would have to go through in performing the infinite atonement. To our human minds, it is unfathomable. And yet, He knew there was no other way. “To this end was I born,” he told Pilate. D&C 19:16-19 records, “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink— Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”
And yet, we profess to want to become more Christlike. Are we up to the task? Especially today, when everything around is I-this or I-that. Can we really submit our wills unto God?
Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “As you submit your wills to God, you are giving Him the only thing you can actually give Him that is really yours to give.” (“Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2004, 46).
After all, is not everything we are and own really as a result of God’s grace? We are not capable of giving the Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and Earth, the Master of the Universe, anything that He did not give us already. Our offerings are a macaroni covered pencil holder. We are indeed “unprofitable servants,” even if we should serve Him with our whole souls. After all, He has “created [us] from the beginning, and is preserving [us] from day to day, by lending [us] breath, that [we] may live and move and do according to [our] own will, and even supporting [us] from one moment to another.” (Mosiah 2:21)
The only thing we have to offer Him is our will. This takes immense faith. However, I myself am confident that God knows a lot better than I do what will make me happy. I trust Him implicitly. Although I do not see the path, I trust that He will take me to a place that is more glorious than I could ever imagine. I am just going to hold onto my hat and look forward to the ride!