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An Excavation of the Sacramental Ordinance

I have borrowed as a text a few themes from Elder Christofferson's talk "The Living Bread Which Came Down from Heaven" from the October 2017 General Conference.

My hope for writing this is that the Holy Ghost will teach us more light intensive truths about the sacrament and, therefore, change our attitudes and behavior regarding it.

Several brethren in this dispensation have put the sacredness of the sacrament in plain terms:

"The sacrament is one of the most sacred ordinances in the Church." - Elder L. Tom Perry (CR April 2006) 


"[The sacrament] is one of the most sacred acts we can perform." - President Anthon H. Lund (CR, October 1916, p. 12) 

"… [Participation in the ordinance of the sacrament] is like going to the temple." - Elder Oaks (Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament, October 2008 GC) 

"As we partake of the sacrament, we look to the temple." - Elder David A. Bednar (April 2009 GC) 

"The weekly opportunity of partaking of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is one of the most sacred ordinances of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints... We may fail to recognize the deep spiritual significance this ordinance offers to each of us personally. Is it possible that a casual attitude on our part of routine formality of this sacred occasion might deaden our opportunity for spiritual growth?" - Elder David B. Haight (Ensign, May 1983, p.12) 

In connection with the sacredness of the sacrament, Elder Christofferson spoke of how the phrase "Holiness to the Lord" was inscribed on sacrament cups and plates in the earlier parts of this dispensation; thereby, again, giving us a taste as to the sacredness the sacrament has and connecting it directly to the temple. 

In our usual speaking of the sacramental ordinance, we speak of it in terms of "renewing covenants" or, more specifically, "renewing baptismal covenants". It is not necessarily untrue but misses the point a bit. Elder Andersen explains:

"The title “renewing our baptismal covenants” is not found in the scriptures. It’s not inappropriate. Many of you have used it in talks; we have used it in talks. But it is not something that is used in the scriptures, and it can’t be the keynote of what we say about the sacrament. … The sacrament is a beautiful time to not just renew our baptismal covenant, but to commit to Him to renew all our covenants, all our promises, and to approach Him in a spiritual power that we did not have previously as we move forward." - Elder Neil L. Andersen (“Witnessing to Live the Commandments,” General Conference Leadership Training on the Sabbath Day Observance at Church) 

It is interesting to note that Elder Christofferson, therefore, does not use the word 'renew' in his talk, but uses different words to describe the purpose and blessings of partaking of the sacrament. Here are some examples:

"… we partake of His flesh and drink His blood when we receive from Him the power and blessings of His Atonement." 

" As we drink the water, we think of the blood He shed in Gethsemane and on the cross and its sanctifying power." 

"To eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ means to pursue holiness." 

Notice he uses such words as 'power', 'holiness', and 'sanctifying'.

It is axiomatic, therefore, that simply renewing baptism covenants does not convey fully the purpose of the sacrament. But where did this idea come? Namely, the idea that baptismal covenants are renewed during the sacrament.

A HISTORY LESSON

For the first 75ish years of this dispensation, there were practices and ordinances known as "rebaptism" and "baptism for healing". Joseph Smith would allow people to be rebaptized in the river for a remission of their sins. We are not talking about excommunicated individuals. We are talking about people like Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff who were rebaptized 9 times in their life. (An interesting side note, most of these rebaptisms had a direct correlation with the building of temples and the proliferation of those ordinances. They served as a recommitment and to purify the individual before temple blessings were administered to them, or more widely to the church).

Baptism for healing is a practice that lasted longer than rebaptism. According to my various reading materials, it appears that practice occurred until 1913 and it was performed within baptism fonts within temples. Joseph Smith taught early that baptism for healing could only be performed in a temple font. In 1913 a course correction was made under the direction of Joseph F. Smith in which he thought these two practices deterred from even more fundamental restored principles. It was at this time that priesthood blessings for healing become more emphasized and baptism for healing was virtually discontinued. Also, rebaptism was virtually discontinued (other than for previously excommunicated persons) and ordinances like the sacrament more emphasized.

It is interesting, therefore, that it appears the idea of renewing baptism covenants was an idea attached to the sacrament after the practice of rebaptism was discontinued. A simple search of BYU's LDS General Conference Corpus shows that the idea of renewing covenants during the sacrament doesn't get fully taught until the early 1900s. In addition, attaching the sacrament directly to baptism doesn't get taught until the 1950s and then explicitly taught by most of the brethren until 1975. Ugo A. Perego, from the Interpreter Foundation, explains the history of this idea in this somewhat lengthy quote:

"In 1921, President Heber J. Grant made the following statement that is particularly relevant to the core of the revealed sacramental supplications:

"I rejoice in the inspiration of Joseph Smith, in translating the Book of Mormon, and giving to us those two wonderful sacramental prayers, those two marvelous covenants that all Latter-day Saints make when they assemble together and partake of the sacrament." (Heber J. Grant, “Increased attendance at sacrament meetings,” Improvement Era 24/7 (May 1921): 650)

Thus, as once directed by the Savior, we are taught even in this dispensation that the theological meaning of the blessing of the bread and that of the cup are distinctively sanctioned — two inseparable promises, renewable weekly, that exemplify the Atonement making us as one with the Savior.

This theological approach underwent a slight (but notable) change when a new emphasis was given to the partaking of the communal symbols. This new emphasis was evident at least by the time of the October 1950 General Conference when Elder Bruce R. McConkie, then a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, made the following statement:

"So important is this [baptismal] covenant in the eyes of the Lord that he has provided for us a means and a way to renew it often. The ordinance whereby we renew this covenant is the ordinance of the sacrament." (Bruce R. McConkie, “Children of the Covenant,” General Conference October 1950)

His 1950 doctrinal explanation on the nature of the sacrament may have gone unnoticed at first, but at the April 1975 General Conference, it was unmistakably reiterated by President Marion G. Romney: “With the wording of the sacrament prayers in our minds as we partake of the sacrament, we renew our baptismal covenant each week.” In the ensuing years, the new theological emphasis of partaking the sacrament as a function of renewing our baptismal covenant became more popular, and the number of instances in which it was officially taught from church headquarters dramatically increased. In the last thirty-five years, nearly fifty talks at General Conference have contained the newly introduced doctrinal statement." (The Changing Forms of the Latter-day Saint Sacrament)

(The image above shows that in the past three decades the teaching of the sacrament being a surrogate of the baptismal ordinance in General Conference talks has dramatically increased)

The quote from Elder Andersen, see above, tells us that another shift is underway and that we are distancing ourselves from this idea as a church. In summation, since Elder Andersen's statement, the idea of attaching the sacrament to baptism has only been taught explicitly in General Conference a few times. That is a steep decline from the first 4 years of this decade.

DISECTING THE SACRAMENT PRAYER 

"Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Him who came down from heaven to shed his blood and mar his flesh is a mystery that can only be understood by the saints as they are enlightened by the power of the Spirit." (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979-1981, 2: 377.) 

The following is a commentary on the sacrament prayer.

"O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ,"

The beginning of the prayer is where authority is invoked to consecrate the bread and water. The name of Jesus Christ is constantly equated in the scriptures with his power and authority. Here is just one example where the Lord is speaking to Abraham:

"Behold, I will lead thee by my hand, and I will take thee, to put upon thee my name, even the Priesthood of thy father, and my power shall be over thee." (Abr 1:18) 

Elder Oaks gives commentary: "[The scriptures] contain scores of references to the name of the Lord in a context where it clearly means the authority of the Lord. Most of these references have to do with the temple." (April 1985 GC)

"… to bless and sanctify this bread/water to the souls of all those who partake/drink of it..."


The authority of Christ, the priesthood, is invoked to sanctify the bread and water to our souls.

3 Nephi 12:6 gives this commentary:

"And blessed are all they who do hunger (bread) and thirst (water) after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost." 

This verse makes it clear that the specific sanctifying blessing 'to our soul' is being filled with the Holy Ghost. D&C 109:15 associates being filled/having a fulness of the Holy Ghost with the Temple.

"… that they may eat/do it in remembrance of the body/blood of thy Son..."

In the ancient temple we have an early relic of our modern sacrament in what the Old Testament called 'shewbread'. Shewbread in Hebrew literally means "bread of the Presence."

In the Hebrew, the word 'zakar' is always translated as 'remember' or 'remembrance' and is almost always used in a context of remembering covenants on our part or the Lord's part. This word, according to modern scholars, can also be readily translated as 'invoke'.

These two ideas together might give us a glimpse that we are not being asked to remember the body and blood of the Savior because it helps us be good. We are asked to remember in order to invoke the Savior's power, presence, and authority. The remembering might be how the power of the atonement of Christ is invoked to us personally during the sacrament. This might connect to Elder Haight's thought that casualness in our approach before and during the sacrament might literally deaden our spiritual growth.

"… and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son..."

Elder Oaks gives great commentary on this line:

"It is significant that when we partake of the sacrament we do not witness that we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We witness that we are willing to do so. The fact that we only witness to our willingness suggests that something else must happen before we actually take that sacred name upon us in the most important sense. 

What future event or events could this covenant contemplate? The scriptures suggest two sacred possibilities, one concerning the authority of God, especially as exercised in the temples, and the other—closely related—concerning exaltation in the celestial kingdom... 

In this sense, our witness relates to some future event or status whose attainment is not self-assumed, but depends on the authority or initiative of the Savior himself." (April 1985 GC) 

"… and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them;"

The difference in wording in the prayer on the bread and water is interesting.

Bread:

"that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them;" 

Water:

"that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him," 

I share the opinion that the blessing of the bread is a prayer of justification and is more directly connected with the covenants we made at baptism. The change of wording in the prayer on the water, to me, suggests that this is a progression from the words of the prayer on the bread (see "Questions and Answers", October 1985 Ensign). President Heber J. Grant stated once that the two sacrament prayers are "two marvelous covenants" (April 1921 GC). In other words, separate and distinct.

The prayer on the water is, therefore, a blessing and petition for sanctification. The phrase "They do always remember him" means we ARE invoking the sanctifying power of the Atonement of Christ in our life instead of witnessing that we are willing to do so as the blessing on the bread states.

Interestingly, whenever the Savior speaks of partaking of the sacrament when he comes again he always emphasizes 'drinking the fruit of the vine'. As far as I am aware, he never mentions the bread in this context (see Mark 14:25, D&C 27:5, Luke 22:18, and Matthew 26:29). Those who access the power within the blessing of the water are, it is probably safe to say, worthy to drink and eat with him on a sanctified earth.

"… that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen"

Again, we have slight word differences. The word 'always' is removed from the blessing on the water. This, again, probably suggests the preparatory nature of the blessing on the bread verses the sanctifying nature of the water.

All the implications of what it means to have His Spirit with us are too numerous to contain in this post. I will point out one thing.

The sacrament prayers in the scriptures directly cross reference with John 14 which speaks of two different comforters. For our purposes, John 14:26 directly states that this Spirit brings all things to our remembrance. We learn in other places in the scriptures that we may know the truth of all things through the Holy Ghost (see Moroni 10:5) and that this truth is transformative in nature (D&C 93:28). We also learn that the fulness of the Holy Ghost is only received in the temple (D&C 109:15), which, the temple, is known as a place of learning.

In short, having his spirit to be with us refers to partaking in temple blessings and invoking such blessings in our lives through gospel living. Joseph Smith once said, when comparing us to other religions, "we differed in mode of baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. We considered that all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Having his spirit to be with us, therefore, includes all other future aspects of the gospel. I like how Robert Millett puts it:

“the Holy Ghost is the midwife of salvation. He is the agent of the new birth, the sacred channel and power by which men and women are changed and renewed, made into new creatures.” (Robert L. Millet, The Power of the Word (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), 112.) 


OTHER OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE SACRAMENT 


The parallels the sacrament has with other ordinances is another interesting study. You will find that it more strongly aligns with the ordinances of the temple than it does with the sacrament. The following is a non-exhaustive list of things I have noticed:

1. A priesthood holder performs the ordinances by using verbal cues and phrases that the rest are to affirm.
2. We are admonished to partake and participate in the ordinance ourselves by the use of the covenant right hand, if possible. 

3. There is an altar in the middle of the ordinance. 

4. Individuals are called up to act vicariously for us at the altar before the tokens and/or emblems are disseminated to the group.

5. In the New Testament the sacrament was first instituted in an 'Upper Room' by the Savior (see Luke 22:12). We learn in Acts 1:13-14 that prayer circles were also performed in an 'Upper Room'.

6. The brethren, namely the Quorum of the twelve apostles and the First Presidency, meet in the Salt Lake Temple every week to partake of the sacrament along with other things.

7. In 3 Nephi 17, we have what some scholars and brethren have called, a Holy of Holies experience. Immediately after the Savior gives unto them the sacrament, interestingly, they eat until they are filled instead of partaking only in small emblems. In connection with this, President John Taylor once said, "In the sacrament, we 'shadow forth the time when He will come again and when we shall meet and eat bread with Him in the kingdom of God'." - John Taylor (JD 14:185, March 20, l870)

8. If there is in fact a progression between the prayer on the bread to the water we see similar themes in the endowment as we participate in things concerning the Aaronic Priesthood and then move onto things pertaining to the Melchizedek Priesthood.

9. In the ancient Temple and Tabernacle, it was the Levitical Priests who were authorized to perform sacrifices. These could only be performed in the temple and tabernacle. In our day it is the priests, who hold the same authority as Aaron, who perform the sacred ordinance of the sacrament.

10. The blood and flesh of Christ are clothed in white cloth while in the temple all are clothed in white cloth and robes.

11. Even further, there is a veil in the temple that symbolizes the covering of the glory of God. In the Old Testament, the altar was used to burn the sacrifices in the outer courtyard of the temple. Could it be that the white cloth that covers the bread and water also parallel the veil in the temple? When it is removed it symbolizes the partaking of the glory of God and/or his consuming fire; aka the Divine nature into our souls.

On that thought I would end with a quote from Truman G. Madsen who explores this idea further and agrees:

"… the fullest flow of the Spirit of God comes to us through His appointed channels or ordinances. The sacrament is the central and oft-repeated ordinance that transmits that power to us. Indeed, it is the ordinance that gives focus to all other ordinances. … Eventually, through a lifetime, His spirit can sanctify the very elements of our bodies until we become capable of celestial resurrection. In baptism we are born once — born of the water and of the spirit. In the sacrament, we are reborn, over and over, of the bread and of the wine or water and we are truly what we eat." (“The Savior, the Sacrament, and Self Worth,” BYU Women’s Conference (1999)) 

He goes on further to say:

"In participating in the sacrament, we do literally partake not only of emanating powers, but of what Peter calls "the divine nature," by inviting into our systems through the tokens or emblems of broken bread and water or wine, the elements of higher life, higher spirit, higher power--the power of godliness --which by his own life-victory Christ now embodies and diffuses." - Truman G. Madsen (“The Meaning of Christ--the Truth, the Way, the Life: an Analysis of B. H. Roberts' Unpublished Masterwork” by Truman G. Madsen, BYU Studies, v. 15, no. 2, 1975, p. 286) 

CONCLUSION

In 3 Nephi 18:28-29 we are told that individuals ought not to put forth their hand and partake of the sacrament unworthily. This parallels the account in Alma 42 which tells us the cherubim and a flaming sword were placed to guard the tree of life so Adam and Eve would not partake of it unworthily. I bear witness that if eating his flesh and drinking his blood gives eternal life, that surely the sacrament is an ordinance that fully symbolizes our approach to the tree of life. Hebrews 9:8 tells us that the Holy Ghost signifies whether or not the way is open to enter and partake thereof. That might possibly explain why it is important for the spirit to always be with us. I would invite all of us to learn more about the sacrament.

"... one of the things that I love about the clothing of the high priest is the relationship that it appears to have to the veil and also to Jesus Christ. It seems to tie all of these different aspects together. First off, the fabric of the veil that separates the Holy of Holies from the holy place is the same colors: red, purple, blue, and white, but not the gold. You have these attributes, again representing the attributes of Christ. The writer of the book of Hebrews, when he is teaching, talks about how the veil represents the flesh of Christ and that we must go through the veil obviously to be able to go into the Holy of Holies. He’s saying that we must go through the flesh that’s represented by it. You think about it that if the high priest is wearing in essence the same fabric — or very similar, minus the gold — of the veil, it’s almost as if the high priest is kind of standing there at the veil, and we must go through him. 
Then if you think about it in the aspect of the sacrament, each Sabbath we partake of bread that is torn and we think about what happens to the veil at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is rent and twain from top to bottom. When Christ was being crucified, or in particular when he was whipped and scourged, the whip would actually tear pieces of flesh from His body. His flesh is being torn apart. The symbolism is that we must go through the torn flesh of Christ, or the torn veil, to be able to enter into the Holy of Holies. 
Not only is the high priest representing Jesus Christ, who is the great High Priest who enters into the Holy of Holies and is a symbolically carrying all Israel with him, taking us back to God. He’s also the very blood that is brought in, to be allowed to come in, and He’s also the veil that separates us. We must go through all. He’s in every aspect. He is the high priest. He is the veil, and he is the blood of the sacrifice. All of those things are intricate parts of the Day of Atonement on which separates us from entering back into the presence of God." (Daniel Smith, LDS Perspectives Podcast)

Comments

  1. This was enriching and helped to expand my mind and soul and get me more excited about partaking of the sacrament as well as the preparation that should come beforehand. Thank you for that.

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    1. You are welcome. Thanks for reading. Come back soon :)

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  2. Wow! This is excellent. You have brought so many concepts together for me that I had not previously connected. Thank you so much for your insights and gift of putting them in words that are not only understandable, but which resonate deep within my heart.

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    1. You are very welcome! Thanks for reading. Come back for more :)

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  4. I'd like to suggest that it may be that the two prayers are opposite to how you concluded above. It seems to me that the stronger covenant is the prayer on the bread because it promises us to *always* have Christ's spirit with us. The prayer on the water is a lesser covenant for those who can't fully take Christ's name upon them and keep the commandments, as often as they are clean and remember Christ, they *may* have his spirit with them to guide them. Here's a write-up I did on this topic: https://scripturenotes.com/tutorial-4-advanced-collection-notes

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    1. Good thoughts but I would stand by my interpretation. The blessing on the bread has the line that they are willing to witness that they have taken upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ. Elder Oaks in a GC talk from 1985 suggests that line means they have not taken upon themselves the name of Christ fully. The blessing on the water has the line removed completely and the word "always" is not in there in the last line. The word 'always' is in the bread to draw the person to continue the walk from Justification to Sanctification. The water is an invitation to retain what the scriptures call "a fulness of the Holy Ghost" which is only received in temples (see D&C 109:15).

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