The hours that lay immediately ahead would change the meaning of all human history. It would be the crowning moment of eternity, the most miraculous of all the miracles. It would be the supreme contribution to a plan designed from before the foundation of the world for the happiness of every man, woman, and child who would ever live in it. The hour of atoning sacrifice had come. God’s own Son, his Only Begotten Son in the flesh, was about to become the Savior of the world.
The setting was Jerusalem. The season was that of the Passover, a celebration rich in symbolism for what was about to come. Long ago, the troubled and enslaved Israelites had been “passed over,” spared, finally made free by the blood of a lamb sprinkled on the lintel and doorposts of their Egyptian homes. That, in turn, had been only a symbolic reiteration of what Adam and all succeeding prophets were taught from the beginning – that the pure and unblemished lambs offered from the firstlings of Israel’s flocks were a similitude, a token, a foreshadowing of the great and last sacrifice of Christ which was to come.
Now, after all those years and all those prophecies and all those symbolic offerings, the type and shadow was to become reality. On this night, when Jesus’ mortal ministry was concluding, the declaration made by John the Baptist when that ministry had begun now meant more than ever –
“Behold the Lamb of God.”
As a final and specially prepared Passover supper was ending, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to his Apostles, saying, “Take, eat. This is my body which is given for you: do this in remembrance of me.” In a similar manner he took the cup of wine, said a blessing of thanks for it, and passed it to those gathered about him, saying, “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which was shed for the remission of sins. This do in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.”
The Lord instituted the sacrament, as we know it today, during this Last Supper. In one sense, it was the last supper, but in another, it was the first supper – the beginning of many spiritual feasts.
The resurrected Lord instructed the Book of Mormon people:
“Ye shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name. And this shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done. And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.”
The moving tenderness and deep significance of this transcendent event are still available to us today. But we must do as they did and follow the doctrine of Christ, which is to believe in Jesus, rely on him, repent of our sins, take his name upon us by being baptized in His church, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and faithfully follow Christ all of our lives.
He knows that we need much help to do this, so he provides that the ordinance of the sacrament be repeated often.
This invitation of the Savior to come unto Him is issued regularly and is universal. Everyone is included – men, women, and children. Old and young alike participate. None are barred except by themselves.
The Lord said “And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me.”
The ordinance of the sacrament makes the sacrament meeting the most sacred and important meeting in the Church. It should focus our attention on the Atonement and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is essential that we renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. When we do this with a sincere heart, with real intent, forsaking our sins, and renewing our commitment to God, the Lord provides a way in which sins can be forgiven from week to week. Simply eating the bread and drinking the water will not bring that forgiveness. We must prepare and then partake with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. The spiritual preparation we make to partake of the sacrament is essential to receiving the remission of our sins.
So then, how can we prepare spiritually to partake of the sacrament?
Elder Dallin H Oaks taught us in the October 2008 General Conference that members of the Church should prepare themselves to participate in the ordinance of the sacrament through the following:
We are seated well before the meeting begins. “This is not a time for conversation or transmission of messages but a period of prayerful meditation as … members prepare spiritually for the sacrament”.
How we dress is an important indicator of our attitude and preparation for any activity in which we will engage. If we are going swimming or hiking or playing on the beach, our clothing, including our footwear, will indicate this. The same should be true of how we dress when we are to participate in the ordinance of the sacrament. It is like going to the temple.
During sacrament meeting—and especially during the sacrament service—we should concentrate on worship and refrain from all other activities, especially from behavior that could interfere with the worship of others. Sacrament meeting is not a time for reading books or magazines. Young people, it is not a time for whispered conversations on cell phones or for texting.
The music of sacrament meeting is a vital part of our worship. How wonderful when every person in attendance joins in the worship of singing.
President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “This is an occasion when the gospel should be presented, when we should be called upon to exercise faith, and to reflect on the mission of our Redeemer, and to spend time in the consideration of the saving principles of the gospel, and not for other purposes”
When we do this, we are qualified for the companionship and revelation of the Spirit. This is the way we get direction for our lives and peace along the way.”
For those of us with young children, the simple task of getting to church seems hard enough. It may seem as though it would be impossible to prepare spiritually once the kids are all fed, dressed, lessons prepared, “entertainment bag” packed, and you get to the church house relatively close to on time. I am definitely not an expert on adding spiritual preparation for the sacrament to the list.
A sister in Mesa, Arizona recounted a similar experience.
“One year when my children were quite young, I was trying to cope with a new schedule for sacrament meeting, a newborn baby, two preschool daughters, and a preschool son. At the time my husband worked on Sundays, so I was left alone to handle my four children during Church meetings. I did my best to prepare for the Sabbath as well as I could by laying out clothes the night before and packing a bag with special quiet activities and books. While the preparation helped, I still felt frazzled and frustrated at the end of each sacrament meeting.
I felt desperate and discouraged, and I was about to give up when I decided to take my problem to the Lord. After I fasted and knelt in earnest, heartfelt prayer, the sweetest feeling came over me. The Spirit of the Holy Ghost whispered that my efforts in going to church each week were not in vain—that my most important duty at that time was to teach my children that church is where we should be on Sunday, even if I never remembered a word of a talk or lesson.
Then an idea came to mind: we could have “quiet time” at home every weekday at about the same time the sacrament meeting was held. I talked to the children about my idea, then rearranged our daily schedule so that most days we could be at home at that time. At the appointed time, I set a 15-minute timer, then played some soft classical music. We all sat on the couch, folded our arms, and listened to the music. After a few minutes, I would let them quietly play with the items usually reserved for Sunday.
The children eagerly looked forward to “quiet time” each day. If the children became noisy, I gently removed the items they had been playing with, put a finger to my lips in a silent “shh,” then returned the toys when they were quiet again.
After two weeks of doing this daily, I was amazed at the change in church. During the passing of the sacrament, my little children sat quietly, and I was able to worship and feel peaceful. I was deeply grateful for those few moments each Sunday. They were enough to give me the spiritual nourishment I needed to be able to be happy the rest of the day.
And during the week, I began to look forward each day to “quiet time” as much as the children did and often used it as a time to read from the Ensign or the scriptures. We were careful to keep it consistently to 15 minutes because their attention spans were short. At the end of each year, when our meeting time changed, we rescheduled a new quiet time, and within a few weeks our children adjusted to the change.
I’m very thankful to a loving Heavenly Father who taught me how to cope during those years of teaching young children to be reverent. He truly understands our needs and helps us with our problems if we do our best and go to Him in prayer.”
Spiritual preparation needs to occur throughout the week. For some it may come through teaching your children about the sacredness of the sacrament outside of church. For others it may be through quiet scripture study and personal prayer asking to be more fully prepared. All should review their deeds over the past week. As President Manwaring has taught us recently, we all have things to repent of each and every day. The moment we think we have done nothing wrong, that is the moment the adversary has gotten us.
The renewal of our covenants by partaking of the sacrament should also be preceded by repentance, so we come to that sacred ordinance with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Then, as we renew our baptismal covenants and affirm that we will “always remember him”, the Lord will renew the promised remission of our sins, under the conditions and at the time he chooses. One of the primary purposes and effects of this renewal of covenants and cleansing from sin is “that we may always have his Spirit to be with us”.
Please bear with me for a moment through my next story. I am not trying to be irreverent. However, I spend my days with a two year old and a nearly one year old. And so I try to see the gospel even in the world that is my life.
I overheard a conversation between our two year old son and his father while having his diaper changed. Initially, Ryker refused to have his diaper changed. He cried at just the thought of doing such, even though he needed it badly and was complaining about the pain. Apparently Ryker had a bad diaper-rash and so the act of having his bottom cleaned was very painful. As Ryker finally submitted and laid very still for the cleaning, tears ran from his eyes. With each wipe, our boy would whimper or cry out and then immediately say “Sorry Daddy, Sorry.” This continued through the entire change until finally Ryker was clean and his wounds were dressed. Upon completion, Ryker immediately stood up and said “Thank you Daddy” before giving him a hug and a kiss and then running off for his next adventure.
The pain that our son was going through caused his father much sadness and he wished that he could make it all go away instantly, but only time and vigilant cleaning would eventually result in the dismissal of pain. In some cases wiping and creams are not enough and a good bath is essential.
I wonder how often we choose to sit in our own mess, wallowing in the pain that it is causing but hesitant to have it cleaned because we know that the very process will most likely result in more pain initially? We even begin to rationalize that we really like our current environment, that we just don’t have time to change, or even worse we are just going to do something else so why bother?
The Lord has provided a way for us to clean up our messes. Through the act of baptism we are given that all too important bath that really cleanses the soul. But alas, we will sin again. And so we were given the gift of the Holy Ghost to act as a cream and safeguard to our souls.
Unfortunately this gift does us no good if we will not submit ourselves to the vigilant cleansing and allow our Father to dress our wounds on a regular basis. We must come to the Father, and though it may hurt and we may cry out, sincere apology and an attempt to do better is necessary. It is through the weekly partaking of the sacrament that we are able to bring our sins to the Lord and have his help in cleaning our souls.
Much like my little son, we cannot clean ourselves. It requires the help of our Father, our job is to simply come to him and submit ourselves. And most important, again like Ryker, we must be thankful for all that he does for us.
I have a strong testimony that the sacrament is one of the most important covenants we make. It is one of the only ones in which we participate with our entire families. From the time we are little children we can partake of the spiritual cleansing and feel the spirit each week.
My brothers and sisters, I solemnly witness to you that these doctrines and principles are true. In view of these truths, I plead with all members of the Church, young and old, to attend sacrament meeting each Sabbath day and to partake of the sacrament with the repentant attitude described as “a broken heart and a contrite spirit”. I pray that we will do so with the reverence and worship of our Savior that will signify a serious covenant to “always remember him”. The Savior himself has said that we should partake “with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins”
I pray that we will also partake of the sacrament with the submissive manner that will help us accept and serve in Church callings in order to comply with our solemn covenant to take his name and his work upon us. I also plead for us to comply with our solemn covenant to keep his commandments.
To those brothers and sisters who may have allowed themselves to become lax in this vital renewal of the covenants of the sacrament, I express in words of the First Presidency that you “come back and feast at the table of the Lord, and taste again the sweet and satisfying fruits of fellowship with the saints” Let us qualify ourselves for our Savior’s promise that by partaking of the sacrament we will “be filled”, which means that we will be “filled with the Spirit”. That Spirit—the Holy Ghost—is our comforter, our direction finder, our communicator, our interpreter, our witness, and our purifier—our infallible guide and sanctifier for our mortal journey toward eternal life.
Any who may have thought it a small thing to partake of the sacrament should remember the Lord’s declaration that the foundation of a great work is laid by small things, for “out of small things proceedeth that which is great”. Out of the seemingly small act of consciously and reverently renewing our baptismal covenants comes a renewal of the blessings of baptism by water and by the Spirit, that we may always have his Spirit to be with us. In this way all of us will be guided, and in this way all of us can be cleansed. That we may qualify for these precious blessings is my humble prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.