Cover image: “Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd” by Simon Dewey.
There are many ways we approach sacrament meeting talks. Sometimes we begin with the ever-popular joke that we got cornered in the hallway by the member of the Bishopric who schedules speakers. Or maybe we begin by telling a favorite joke. Or sometimes we start by announcing we really didn’t take the time to adequately prepare our talk. Or perhaps we invested significant time in researching a topic, but then we simply read our research findings to the congregation. Sometimes we give talks focused on warnings and fears; we describe all that is horribly wrong with the world and issue dire warnings.
I think of Joseph Smith’s words: “How vain and trifling have been our spirits, our conferences, our councils, our meetings, our private as well as public conversations—too low, too mean, too vulgar, too condescending for the dignified characters of the called and chosen of God” (TPJS, p. 137).
We who are in covenant with Jesus should take sacred meetings very seriously. We should focus on Jesus and His good news.
President Oaks taught us clearly: “The ordinance of the sacrament makes the sacrament meeting the most sacred and important meeting in the Church. . .Its content in addition to the sacrament should always be planned and presented to focus our attention on the Atonement and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Dallin Oaks, October 2018, Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament).
I love the sacrament hymns that soften our hearts and fill our souls with gratitude.
During the sacrament, I set a printed copy of the sacrament prayers on my lap along with my inspiration journal. I follow along with the words of the prayers and often feel pure fire. As the sacrament is passed, I acknowledge His holiness, my fallenness, and my need for mercy. Then I open my mind and heart to His instruction. And I take notes on any impressions. The sacrament is for me a sacred encounter.
The ordinance of the sacrament is not intended to set the stage for frivolity, side trips, or fear mongering. All of the meeting that follows should be a celebration or commemoration of Jesus.
When I served as a bishop of a BYU married student ward many years ago, my counselors asked me for a list of topics for sacrament meetings. They were surprised that I had a whole year mapped out in only two bullet points:
- First Sunday: Testimonies of Christ
- Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays: How have the life, love, teachings, and atonement of Jesus Christ blessed, lifted, and redeemed your life?
While this focus on the life, love, teachings, and atonement of Jesus Christ might seem to narrow the options for sacrament meeting talks, that topic is actually expansive. His ministry involves every human who has ever lived on this earth and each person has distinctly different experiences of Jesus rescuing them and the people they love. We can talk joyously of the many ways He has come—and continues to come—to our lives and the marvelous ways He is blessing us and others. Instead of hounding or guilting people into adhering to checklists of spiritual practices, we instead can invite others to draw closer to Him and be blessed by following His teachings.
I do not suggest that the theme we chose for our BYU ward is the right one for every ward. I do believe, along with President Oaks, that Jesus should be the focus of every sacrament meeting.
The key point of focusing on Jesus and His effect on our lives was that every listener felt invited to put Jesus at the center of their lives.
During the October 2019 General Conference, Elder Holland gave precious instruction concerning conference meetings, but his council also applies to our weekly sacrament meetings as well.
“…In spite of everything else [our sacrament meetings] may offer us, [they] will mean little or nothing unless we find Jesus at the center of it all. To grasp the vision we are seeking, the healing that He promises, the significance we somehow know is here, we must cut through the commotion—joyful as it is—and fix our attention on Him. The prayer of every speaker, the hope of all who sing, the reverence of every guest—all are dedicated to inviting the Spirit of Him whose Church this is—the living Christ, the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace.”
Witnessing of the living Christ through sacrament meeting talks and testimonies is a wonderful opportunity. When we are given that opportunity, may we ensure that the content and approach of our messages fix everyone’s attention on Him—how His life inspires us, how His love and healing lift us up, how His teachings bless our lives, how His Atonement redeems us, and how we might joyfully partner with Him in blessing souls.
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful additions to this article.