My thoughts of late have been on our Savior, His atonement, and the effectiveness of our sacrament meetings. When we contemplate the most sacred meetings in the Church, sacrament meeting is one of the most important. However, as I attend sacrament meetings, I have observed some trends that concern me: apparent lack of preparation, a general irreverence, commotion, and at times a spirit unconducive to thoughtful worship.
I have wondered: How are we doing as members of the Church in remembering our Lord and Savior, His sacrifice, and our indebtedness to Him? Are we providing in our services opportunity for meditation, reflection, reverence, repentance, forgiveness?
As I reflect on the memorable occasion when the Savior introduced the sacrament to His apostles, my heart fills with gratitude and my emotions are tender. That indeed was a night of all nights in history, the night of the Passover feast that culminated in the infinite atonement by the Son of God.
It began with the Paschal supper, or the Passover meal. Jesus made preparations for this meal in “a large upper room.” (Luke 22:12.) This Passover would officially close the requirement of animal sacrifices.
As Jesus and the Twelve Apostles entered the guest chamber in the upper room, the roasted lamb, unleavened cakes, bitter herbs, and dish with vinegar were prepared and ready.
Jesus presided at this meal. That was significant because as the One who took the place of the family patriarch, He made a last symbolic sacrifice in preparation for the real sacrifice that He later offered. He understood this; the Apostles did not. By celebrating the Passover feast, He gave His endorsement to all those similitudes, signs, and tokens of the past millennia that had prefigured His great sacrifice.
Significant, too, is the fact that the Son of God commenced His earthly ministry with an ordinance—baptism—and ended His ministry with an ordinance—the sacrament. Both bore record of His death, burial, and resurrection.
From at least the time of the Exodus when Moses led the children of Israel from Pharaoh’s captivity, the Lord’s people had offered the firstlings of their flocks in sacrifice. Hours after the Passover feast in the upper room, the Son of Man shed His blood as an infinite eternal sacrifice, and the shedding of animal blood by the faithful Saints ceased. All sacrifices of the past were fulfilled in Him. Thus Paul testified: “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” (1 Cor. 5:7; italics added.) From this night forward, the sacrament would point toward the one supreme sacrifice—the Lamb of God.
While reclining at the Passover table, Jesus and His Apostles ate the meal and presumably observed the rites that attended that ceremony. He then introduced the ordinance of the washing of feet. After doing so, He questioned them, “Know ye what I have done to you?” (John 13:12.)
What He had done was to perform an ordinance found only in holy places where those who are to bear His name are cleansed from “the blood [and sins] of this wicked generation.” (See D&C 88:74–75, 137–41.) This was a manifestation of the Savior’s supreme love “to seal his friends up unto eternal life in his Father’s kingdom.” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 4 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979–81, 4:48.)
The Twelve were now clean, “but not all.” Jesus, of course, was referring to Judas, His betrayer. Later, during the meal, Jesus said, “Verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.” (John 13:10, 21.)
What was the reaction of the Twelve to such a declaration? Matthew tells us, “They were exceeding sorrowful.” (Matt. 26:22.) Significantly, none asked, “Is it he?” referring to another at the table. Instead, each asked in turn, “Is it I?” (Matt. 26:22; italics added.) There seemed to be no pharisaical pride displayed among them, but rather the depressing thought that such a possibility could occur to breach the blessed relationship that the Master and each of the Twelve had experienced during the past three years.
Simon Peter then turned to John, who was leaning on Jesus’ bosom, and asked him to inquire of Jesus who it was. John asked and Jesus replied: “He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it.” Jesus then dipped the bread into the dish and handed it to Judas with these words, “That thou doest, do quickly.” Judas then departed into the night to perform his ignominious deed. (See John 13:23–30.)
Against this backdrop given by John, we can read the brief accounts of the Passover meal and the introduction of the new ordinance—the sacrament—from four New Testament witnesses: Matthew (chapter 26); Mark (as illuminated by the Prophet Joseph Smith’s inspired translation, chapter 14); Luke (chapter 22); and the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 11).
The most complete account of Christ’s introduction of the sacrament is the witness of Nephi, the disciple:
“And when the disciples had come with bread and wine, he took of the bread and brake and blessed it; and he gave unto the disciples and commanded that they should eat.
“And when they had eaten … , he commanded that they should give unto the multitude.
“And when the multitude had eaten … , he said unto the disciples: Behold there shall one be ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he 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, even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you.
“And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto 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.
“And it came to pass that when he said these words, he commanded his disciples that they should take of the wine of the cup and drink of it, and that they should also give unto the multitude that they might drink of it. …
“And when the disciples had done this, Jesus said unto them: Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you.
“And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name; and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness 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.
“And I give unto you a commandment that ye shall do these things. And if ye shall always do these things blessed are ye, for ye are built upon my rock.
“But whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them.” (3 Ne. 18:3–13.)
From the Book of Mormon account and the testimonies of New Testament witnesses, we learn several important truths about the sacrament:
Jesus gave Himself—His body and His blood—as a ransom for our sins. He sacrificed His life so that we might live again.
We eat in remembrance of His body. We remember the Passover, the Last Supper, Gethsemane, Calvary, and the Resurrection.
His blood represents a new testament—a new covenant with Israel. We drink in remembrance of His suffering—a suffering so excruciating that He said it “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.” (D&C 19:18–19.)
In the words of the Apostle Paul, as often as we partake of this new covenant in sincerity, we “do shew the Lord’s death [or testify of it] till he come[s again].” (1 Cor. 11:26.)
When we act in obedience and always remember Him, we are built on the rock of His gospel. We are blessed as we live His commandments. We must take these emblems in worthiness. Personal worthiness to partake of the sacrament is a prerequisite for receiving the Holy Ghost. Moroni admonished, “See that ye partake not of the sacrament of Christ unworthily.” (Morm. 9:29.)
Jesus instructed the Nephites: “Ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily, when ye shall minister it;
“For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul; therefore if ye know that a man is unworthy to eat and drink of my flesh and blood ye shall forbid him.” (3 Ne. 18:28–29.)
The Apostle Paul warned: “Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
“For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
“For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” (1 Cor. 11:27–30.)
What constitutes worthiness? Worthiness implies all those matters mentioned in the temple interview questions, but there is more expected from Christ’s disciples than just the refraining from sin. There must also be harmony among Christ’s disciples—especially within families.
Jesus expounded a higher law for worthiness: “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
“Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (Matt. 5:23–24.)
In latter-day revelation He added, “If any have trespassed, let him not partake until he makes reconciliation.” (D&C 46:4; italics added.)
Worthiness, then, includes forgiving another, not holding grudges, having no animosity nor hatred in our hearts. To live Christ’s gospel is to have charity for all men.
5. Jesus promised that He would not partake of these emblems again until He drinks anew the sacrament in the kingdom of His Father. (See Matt. 26:29.) Fortunate are we to have latter-day revelation wherein the Lord reveals that He will drink the fruit of the vine in a great solemn assembly in the latter times before He returns in glory. On that occasion, He will sit with Moroni, Elias, John the Baptist, Elijah, Joseph of Egypt, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Michael (Adam), and Peter, James, and John. Then Jesus adds, “And also with all those whom my Father hath given me out of the world,” which means all the righteous Saints from all the dispensations. (See D&C 27:5–14, esp. D&C 27:14.)
Following the introduction of the sacramental ordinance, Jesus must have opened His heart to the eleven. In that company were strong, bold men—men who would change the world. Yet He called them “little children.” “Little children, yet a little while I am with you.” (John 13:33.) He then instructed them and gave a new commandment to love one another. (See John 13:34–35.) And He further discoursed on the Comforter—the Holy Ghost—and on the Second Comforter. (See John 14:26, 16–18.)
Then He taught them, by superb analogy, the vital relationship that must be maintained between Himself and His servants. This was His allegory of the vine and branch:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
“Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. …
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
“If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
“Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” (John 15:1–8.)
Elder James E. Talmage’s insight on this analogy reminds us how utterly dependent we must be on Him. He wrote:
“A grander analogy is not to be found in the world’s literature. Those ordained servants of the Lord were as helpless and useless without Him as is a bough severed from the tree. As the branch is made fruitful only by virtue of the nourishing sap it receives from the rooted trunk, and if cut away or broken off withers, dries, and becomes utterly worthless except as fuel for the burning, so those men, though ordained to the Holy Apostleship, would find themselves strong and fruitful in good works, only as they remained in steadfast communion with the Lord. Without Christ what were they, but unschooled Galileans?” (Jesus the Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979, pp. 604–5; italics added.)
In summary, these are the essential events that surrounded the introduction of that sacred ordinance, the sacrament.
In this last dispensation the Lord reinstated that ordinance through the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Church was restored on 6 April 1830, a Tuesday. On that occasion the Lord declared:
“It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus.” (D&C 20:75.)
There followed instructions regarding the verbatim prayers that are to be offered by the priests as they administer the sacrament.
On the date of that sacred occasion, the Prophet wrote:
“We then took bread, blessed it, and brake it with them; also wine, blessed it, and drank it with them. We then laid our hands on each individual member of the Church present, that they might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and be confirmed members of the Church.” (History of the Church, 1:78.)
How often the sacrament was administered in the first months of the history of the Church is difficult to determine. We know that the sacrament was administered during conferences. We read, for example, the following from the Prophet’s journal history:
“On the ninth day of June, 1830, we held our first conference as an organized Church [sixty-four days after the Church was organized]. Our numbers were about thirty, besides whom many assembled with us, who were either believers or anxious to learn. Having opened by singing and prayer, we partook together of the emblems of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We then proceeded to confirm several who had lately been baptized, after which we called out and ordained several to the various offices of the Priesthood. Much exhortation and instruction was given, and the Holy Ghost was poured out upon us in a miraculous manner—many of our number prophesied, whilst others had the heavens opened to their view.” (History of the Church, 1:84–85.)
It was not until sixteen months after the Church was organized that the Lord commanded that the sacrament be partaken each Sabbath day:
“And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day;
“For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;
“Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times;
“But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.” (D&C 59:9–12.)
Over the 150 years of history in the restored Church, the Lord or His servants have given a number of inspired directions pertaining to the sacrament that emphasize the sacredness and meaningfulness of this ordinance. I will mention but a few of these directions.
The Use of Water. One of the most significant changes was given by revelation in August 1830. The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it 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.
“Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, that you shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies;
“Wherefore, you shall partake of none except it is made new among you; yea, in this my Father’s kingdom which shall be built up on the earth.” (D&C 27:2–4.)
It took a number of years before the congregations of the Saints totally abolished the use of wine in the sacrament, but by the end of President Brigham Young’s administration, the use of water for the sacrament was generally the practice. The point of the revelation was that the sacrament be partaken with an eye single to the glory of the Lord.
Withholding the Sacrament. So sacred did the First Presidency regard the sacrament as an ordinance that, during the reformation period (1856–57), it was withheld from the Saints for some months “to afford them space and time for repentance, restitution and, when ready, for a renewal of their covenants.” (“Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” 26 Jan. 1857, p. 2.)
Heber C. Kimball lamented in 1857 that “there are a great many people … in this Valley who could justly … partake of the sacrament, but they are prohibited for the present in consequence of the wickedness of some who would also partake and thus eat and drink to their condemnation.” (In Journal of Discourses, 4: 164.)
Elder Wilford Woodruff said in 1856 that when he saw the sacrament “removed from the table … it was a loud sermon to this people.” (In Journal of Discourses, 4: 146.)
Inviting Children to Participate. On 11 July 1877, the First Presidency issued one of the most important documents in our Church history to set in order the priesthood. This letter was the culmination of President Brigham Young’s administration, for he died a little over a month later. In this historic letter, the First Presidency said that children should be given the sacrament during Sunday School so they could “be taught the value and importance of that ordinance.” The First Presidency noted that “the proper observance of the Lord’s day would be greatly increased among the rising generation if this were to become a custom in all our settlements.” (James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75, 2:289.) The sacrament did become a part of Sunday School opening exercises and continues to be given to children during weekly sacrament meetings. Many have been blessed because of that practice.
No Sermons during the Sacrament. In early Church history, it was customary for local Church leaders to give sermons during the sacrament. This practice was discontinued sometime after Brigham Young’s administration.
No Music during the Sacrament. A carryover from the nineteenth century was the practice for music to be rendered during the sacrament. As recently as 2 May 1946, the First Presidency issued a statement that “the ideal condition is to have absolute quiet during the passing of the sacrament, and that we look with disfavor upon vocal solos, duets, group singing, or instrumental music during the administration of this sacred ordinance.” (Improvement Era, June 1946, p. 384.)
Avoiding Formalism. Since the administration of President Heber J. Grant, the First Presidency has emphasized the precaution through the General Handbook of Instructions to avoid any formalism, or uniformity in procedures. These instructions apply to the dress of Aaronic Priesthood youth who pass the sacrament. Boys should be neat and clean, but not required to dress uniformly. It also refers to any formalism, such as Aaronic Priesthood young men walking with one arm behind their back, or standing with arms folded, or priests raising their arm to the square when blessing the sacrament.
All of these changes were inspired to help the Saints renew their spiritual strength by attending sacrament meeting and partaking of the sacred emblems in a spirit of meditation, reverence, and worship.
Other inspired instruction has been given regarding the meeting itself. During President Joseph Fielding Smith’s administration, a letter was issued on 17 December 1970, urging the Saints to hold sacrament meeting for the full one hour and thirty minutes. The time length for sacrament meeting has since been reduced, but note the counsel concerning the desired spiritual caliber of our sacrament meetings:
“The object, of course, is not merely to hold a meeting of the required length but to plan and execute each one in a way that will provide the spiritual uplift and the sound doctrinal teaching which the Church members need in these critical times. Toward this end, speakers should be urged to relate faith-promoting experiences, to bear testimony, to expound doctrinal subjects, and to speak in a spirit of love and brotherhood. At the same time, they should be urged to avoid travelogues, argumentations, criticism, and the discussion of controversial subjects which have no direct bearing on the saving principles of the gospel. In planning your Sacrament Meetings, you should also make good use of choirs and the available musical talent to add variety and interest.”
It seems to me that we need to frequently reemphasize fundamental principles so we never lose sight of the purpose and moorings of our faith. Early in Church history the Lord provided this significant principle regarding meetings of the Church:
“But notwithstanding those things which are written, it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit.” (D&C 46:2; italics added.)
We encourage local Church leaders to see that the sacrament meetings of the Church are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit. The spirit in our sacrament meetings should be a matter that is continually emphasized and stressed by stake presidencies and bishoprics. Our members must be reminded of the need for a worshipful atmosphere. Bringing investigators to irreverent meetings has proven embarrassing to our members and missionaries.
The planning of sacrament meetings is one of a bishop’s most vital responsibilities. The entire bishopric should prayerfully plan each meeting. They should ask: “What messages do our people need? Do we need to address youth problems or concerns? Who can best treat these subjects? Who needs to pray?”
Members should understand the Lord’s expectation of worthiness. Worthiness includes forgiveness and charity. If there are feelings of animosity, members should seek reconciliation before partaking of the sacrament.
The primary objective of a bishopric for sacrament meeting is to see that the Saints are edified and strengthened in their faith, and that through their prayerful efforts and planning, the Holy Spirit is felt in their sacrament meetings.
Several years ago I spoke on this subject in general conference. (See Ensign, May 1983, pp. 12–14.) I recalled the days of my youth and how the sacredness of the sacrament was instilled within me by the bishopric and older priests. I wonder if some of that is lost to our youth today.
We have begun a great effort to “invite all to come unto Christ.” (D&C 20:59.) As the members meet—the active and the less active, the poor in spirit, the singles and the married, the handicapped, and those who have been disciplined—they ought to feel the Spirit, love, and forgiveness. For all of us, this ought to be a time of prayerful meditation and thanksgiving.
The singular tragedy of the Nephite decline as recorded by Mormon in the Book of Mormon was the loss of the Holy Ghost and the spiritual gifts. Wisdom and inspiration dictated that Moroni include in his closing record the instructions by his father, Mormon, on the ordinations, the sacrament, and practices of the Church. Noteworthy is this testimony about their meetings:
“Their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.” (Moro. 6:9.)
That is the spirit that can and should characterize our worship and our sacrament meetings.
A sister remarked to me after one such spiritual meeting, “I don’t recall all that was said—but I remember how we felt as we sang the closing hymn and bowed our heads in prayer.”
May God bless us all to remember the Savior and His atoning sacrifice and to unite in making our sacrament meetings a time of reverence, remembrance, and worship.