Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE

Editor’s Note: Our friend and longtime Meridian writer Larry Barkdull passed away. To remember and honor him this is one of a series of his past articles that we are republishing regularly.

Nearly every week, we partake of the Sacrament, often casually, sometimes by rote. However, this simple ordinance should demand our utmost attention. Its significance and power are without precedent. Perhaps it is time to take another look at this singular ordinance. 

When Jesus appeared to the Nephites after his resurrection, he dramatically altered the law of sacrifice. No more sacrificing animals. Now the sacrifice must come from a person’s life. He was to offer up a broken heart and a contrite spirit; he was to offer up his sins on the altar of sacrifice.

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.[1]

Over the centuries, the law of sacrifice had become blurred for many of the covenant. Did they really believe that sacrificing an animal could cleanse them of sin? Did they really understand that the act of sacrifice was to foreshadow the coming of the Messiah and his atoning sacrifice? In Jesus’ appearance to the Nephites, he clarified the doctrine once and for all. President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. explained:

The sinner…took on no obligation to abandon his sins, but took on only the obligation to offer sacrifice therefor. 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.[2]

In our day, the Lord restored the correct doctrine, commanding us to “offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.”[3] What does it mean to offer up a sacrament? Are we not to do exactly what the Lord instructed the Nephites to do: to offer up a broken heart and a contrite spirit; to offer up the sins out of our own lives?

Sometimes we, like the ancient Israelites, do things so often that they become commonplace and lose significance in our lives. The sacrament is a case in point. But worthily partaken of and understood, the sacrament can serve to sanctify and empower us. The sacrament serves to align our lives with Jesus Christ like a compass aligns us to true north.

The Purposes of the Sacrament

The ordinances of the sacrament and baptism are interconnected. Baptism is the covenant of salvation;[4] Jesus Christ is the agent of salvation. When we renew our baptismal covenants by partaking of the sacrament, we should recommit to the terms of baptism that ensure our salvation, and we should recommit our lives to Jesus Christ. The major purpose of our gathering in sacrament meeting is to partake of the sacrament. “When ye come together therefore into one place, is it not to eat the Lord’s supper?”[5] The Apostle Paul suggests three great purposes for the sacrament.

  • The sacrament is a memorial. “This do ye…in remembrance of me.”[6]
  • The sacrament is a testimonial. When we partake, we “shew the Lord’s death till he come.”[7] (Note that the word shew means to “proclaim or announce.”)
  • The sacrament is an examination. “But let a man examine himself.”[8]

When we partake of the sacrament, do we fulfill these three main purposes? Do we rejoice in our recollection of the wonder and majesty of the Atonement? Does our partaking of the sacrament testify of our faith in the Redeemer? Do we look closely at our lives to see if we are worthy and if we are conducting ourselves as disciples ought?

The Sacrament and the Promise of the Holy Ghost

Significantly, the sacrament’s sanctifying promise is the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost: “Those who partake of the sacrament place themselves under covenant with the Lord to take upon them the name of Christ, to always remember him, and to keep his commandments. The Lord in turn covenants that they may always have his Spirit to be with them.”[9]

This implication is often missed. When we are baptized and confirmed, we are commanded to “receive the Holy Ghost.” Elder Bruce R. McConkie points out that this commandment is also a gift-a right, not a guarantee, “based on faithfulness, to the constant companionship of the member of the Godhead. It is the right to receive revelation, guidance, light, and truth.”[10] Our ability to retain the companionship of the Holy Ghost is apparently dependent upon our honoring our baptismal covenants by means of the sacrament. In plain terms, the sacrament is the ordinance that makes retention of the Holy Ghost possible.

The Holy Ghost and Sanctification

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “When we worthily partake of the sacrament, we are promised that we will always have his Spirit to be with [us].’ To qualify for that promise we covenant that we will always remember him’ (D&C 20:77).”[11] Because we enjoy the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, we enjoy the constant sanctifying power of that gift, which sanctification, in addition to all other considerations, enables us to seek redeeming blessings for those whom we love.

The Holy Ghost is the Sanctifier. Receipt of the Holy Ghost is called the baptism of fire, which follows the baptism by water. We are immersed both in water and in the Spirit. Remission of sins is not possible without the baptism of fire. Of the necessity of these two baptisms, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half-that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.”[12]

Because “no unclean thing can dwell in a divine presence,” and because “people are saved to the extent that they are sanctified,”[13] we cherish and rely on the Holy Ghost, who burns out of us all impurities and creates of us a “new creature.”[14] As its name implies, baptism by fire is hot. Malachi described the work of the Lord and his agent, the Holy Ghost, as a refiner’s fire. [15] Both the Savior and the Holy Ghost are engaged in the work of refining souls.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote of the sacramental covenant and the Holy Ghost: 

Those who partake of the sacrament worthily thereby put themselves under covenant with the Lord: 1. To always remember the broken body and spilled blood of Him who was crucified for the sins of the world; 2. To take upon themselves the name of Christ and always remember him; and 3. To keep the commandments of God, that is, to “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.” (D&C 84:44.)

As his part of the contract, the Lord covenants: 1. That such worthy saints shall have his Spirit to be with them; and 2. That in due course they shall inherit eternal life. (D&C 20:75-79; Moro. 4; 5.) “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:54.) In the light of these covenants, promises, and blessings, is it any wonder that the Lord commanded: “It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus.”[16]

Clearly, none of these blessings are possible without the sacrament.

Coming to the Altar of Sacrifice

Each Sunday our attention should be focused on the sacramental table-the altar of sacrifice-where the priests of God prepare emblems of bread and water that remind us of the Lord’s sacrifice. Jesus said that He is the Bread of Life[17] and the Living Water.[18]

In the sacramental covenant, both parties make promises to and agree to sacrifice for each other. The Lord’s promises are the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost and eternal life; our promises are those that we made at baptism, specifically, to take upon us the name of Christ, to always remember Him, and to keep His commandments. Jesus’ sacrifice is His body and His blood; our sacrifice is a “broken heart and a contrite spirit.”[19] The altar is where all of this takes place.

At the altar of sacrifice, the priests of God prepare and consecrate the sacrifice and set forth the terms of the covenant. The sacrament, like the Passover, is the memorial of our salvation and deliverance. That single hope should sink deeply within our souls as we consider the Atonement’s saving and liberating implications.

The Supernal Blessing of the Holy Ghost

By living in a way that we always honor our baptismal covenants, we “retain a remission of our sins,”[20] “and the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.”[21]

The promise of the Holy Ghost is unequalled: “The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.”[22]

Therefore-and in no other way-by the simple, sanctifying act of worthily partaking of the sacrament, we renew our baptismal covenant and secure the promise that we received in our confirmation: the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. And with the companionship of the Holy Ghost we are purified and sanctified.

Drinking the Bitter Cup

When Jesus first announced his mission to the Nephites, he declared that he had “drunk out of the bitter cup, which the Father hath given me.”[23] But whose bitter cup was it? We often say that it was Jesus’ cup, since he was the one who drank from it. But according to Isaiah, that is not true.

Thus saith thy Lord, the Lord and thy God that pleadeth the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again.[24]

The bitter cup was our cup, and Jesus drank it so we would not have to. In the place of the bitter cup or “the cup of trembling,” he gave us another cup to drink: the sacramental cup. If we return and come to him, if we offer up our sacraments on his holy day, if we sacrifice our sins and our hearts are broken and contrite, we will never taste the bitter cup, only the sweet Living Water in the sacramental cup.

[1] 3 Nephi 9:19,20.

[2] Clark, Behold the Lamb of God,107-108.

[3] D&C 59: 8.

[4] See Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, “Abrahamic Covenant,” 13.

[5] JST 1 Corinthians 11:20.

[6] 1 Corinthians 11:25.

[7] 1 Corinthians 11:26.

[8] 1 Corinthians 11:28.

[9] Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Sacrament,” 1243-1244.

[10] Bruce R. McConkie, “Gift of the Holy Ghost,” Mormon Doctrine, 312.

[11] Dallin H. Oaks, “Pornography,” Ensign, May 2005, 88.

[12] Robert, B.H., History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Volume 5, 499.

[13] Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Holy Ghost,” 649-650.

[14] 2 Corinthians 5:17.

[15] See Malachi 3:2.

[16] Bruce R. McConkie, “Sacrament,” Mormon Doctrine, 660.

[17] See John 6:35.

[18] See John 4:10.

[19] D&C 59:8.

[20] Mosiah 4:12.

[21] Moroni 8:26, emphasis added.

[22] D&C 121:46.

[23] 3 Nephi 11:11.

[24] Isaiah 51:22.