Throughout the Church each week, members gather for the opportunity to partake of the sacrament. This is a deep and meaningful privilege, an expression of God’s love for His children that provides a way whereby we can be cleansed of our sins. Among those who gather may be people who are suffering deeply, perhaps due to wayward children, financial stress, debilitating illness, death, depression, loneliness, despair, sin, or sorrow. It is important, therefore, that sacrament meetings accomplish their purpose. What we do in them may be more important to someone there than we would ever know. Sacrament meeting is often the primary means for rescuing the troubled soul.
Imagine a person has come to sacrament meeting feeling desperate, lonely, and hurting. He or she comes a few minutes early, being greeted in the foyer by loving members. He enters the chapel, where there is a spirit of reverence. The organist is playing worshipful music, having arrived early and selected from the hymnbook several pieces as prelude music. The organist might well have prayed, “Heavenly Father, help me to choose hymns that will soothe the troubled heart.”
The person sits quietly for 10 minutes and listens to the music. He can feel its soothing influence in his soul.
The bishopric is on the stand six or seven minutes prior to the meeting. The meeting starts on time. The congregation joins in singing a spiritually uplifting hymn. A thoughtful prayer is given on behalf of ward members and others, and it contains expressions of gratitude, love, and pleading for the needs of the members and others.
A sacrament hymn is sung, and again the Holy Spirit rests upon the congregation. The sacrament is blessed and passed with great dignity, and the congregation partakes, renewing their covenants made at baptism.
Youth and adult speakers address subjects that can bind the broken heart, lift the downtrodden, and provide rest for the weary and hope for the despairing. A choir sings a hymn, or some other kind of sacred music provides an additional spiritual experience for those who have gathered.
The concluding remarks are made, followed by a beautiful closing hymn from the hymnbook. A closing prayer of thanksgiving and supplication on behalf of ward members is given, after which appropriate postlude music is played.
Greatly encouraged, the person leaves this meeting feeling he can make it for one more week. Expressions of love are shared in the foyer or hall in reasonable tones so that the chapel may remain a reverent and holy place.
Our sacrament meetings should be the very perfection of our expression of reverence for God. When this happens, all are blessed and those with serious problems and afflictions feel the healing influence of the “balm of Gilead” (see Bible Dictionary, “Balm,” 618). Fellowship is appropriate and critically needed by many, including those we might never suspect.
It is essential that we understand the doctrine of the sacrament in order to gain the deepest, most meaningful spiritual experience during sacrament meeting.
The sacrament is the ordinance of the Church that ties most directly to the Atonement. Some time before the Savior personally introduced this ordinance to the Nephites, He told them the law of the sacrifice of animals was fulfilled and that what He required instead was the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit (see 3 Ne. 9:19–20).
The law requiring the sacrifice of animals was given after Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden and, as the Bible Dictionary states, included “offering the firstlings of their flocks in a similitude of the sacrifice that would be made of the Only Begotten Son of God (Moses 5:4–8). Thereafter, whenever there were true believers on the earth, with priesthood authority, sacrifices were offered in that manner and for that purpose” (“Sacrifices,” 765–66).
From Adam and Eve down through the ages, this law of sacrifice was continued until the death of Jesus Christ, which ended the shedding of blood as a gospel ordinance. An understanding of the ancient law of sacrifice can help us find more meaning in and better appreciate the Atonement as we ponder during the sacrament service.
Under the law there were three kinds of sacrifice: (1) sin offerings, (2) burnt offerings, and (3) peace offerings. The Bible Dictionary states that the fundamental idea of the sin offerings “was atonement, expiation. They implied that there was a sin, or some uncleanness akin to a sin, that needed atoning for before fellowship with Jehovah could be obtained. …
“Trespass or guilt offerings were a particular kind of sin offerings.
“The burnt offering got its Hebrew name from the idea of the smoke of the sacrifice ascending to heaven” (“Sacrifices,” 766). It was placed on the altar and completely burned, symbolizing complete surrender and total devotion to God and parallels the process of justification and sanctification, a process of “retaining a remission of [our] sins” (Alma 4:14).
“As the obligation to surrender [to God] was constant on the part of Israel, a burnt offering, called the continual burnt offering, was offered twice daily, morning and evening. …
“Peace offerings, as the name indicates, presupposed that the sacrificer was at peace with God; they were offered for the further realization and enjoyment of that peace. …
“… When the three offerings were offered together, the sin always preceded the burnt, and the burnt [preceded] the peace offerings. Thus the order of the symbolizing sacrifices was the order of the atonement, sanctification, and fellowship with the Lord” (“Sacrifices,” 766–67).
The prophet Nephi taught his people almost 600 years before the coming of Christ that “ye must keep the performances and ordinances of God until the law shall be fulfilled which was given to Moses” (2 Ne. 25:30). He also prophesied that “after Christ shall have risen from the dead he shall show himself unto you, my children, and my beloved brethren; and the words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law which ye shall do” (2 Ne. 26:1).
During His initial visit to the Western Hemisphere, the resurrected Savior introduced the ordinance of the sacrament to the Nephites:
“He took of the bread and brake and blessed it; and he gave unto the disciples and commanded that they should eat. …
“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” (3 Ne. 18:3, 6–7).
During another visit to the Nephites just one day later, the Savior taught, “He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled” (3 Ne. 20:8).
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 whereby 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 contrite spirit. The spiritual preparation we make to partake of the sacrament is essential to receiving a remission of our sins.
To those who have unresolved, major transgressions, who profane God and His Holy Son, who trample His words, who are godless, who reject Him, who do not sustain His servants, or who have no desire to repent, the Lord has said, “Whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul” (3 Ne. 18:29).
The Atonement is the foundational doctrine of all things, including the sacrament. The law of sacrifice was a similitude of the Atonement. During sacrament meetings we may offer a sin offering of our own, so to speak, by repenting and coming to Christ. We may offer a burnt offering by surrendering ourselves to Him and always remembering Him. And we may offer a peace offering as we express our gratitude for His bounteous blessings. Our sacrifice is not a literal sacrifice of animals but is a sacrifice of time, money, talents, and a broken heart and a contrite spirit. The Atonement lifts us to a level of opportunity to become joint heirs with Christ and to be exalted with the blessings of “eternal lives” (D&C 132:24).
The hymns are filled with the doctrine of the sacrament. Here is one example:
Rev’rently and meekly now,
Let thy head most humbly bow.
Think of me, thou ransomed one;
Think what I for thee have done.
With my blood that dripped like rain,
Sweat in agony of pain,
With my body on the tree
I have ransomed even thee.
In this bread now blest for thee,
Emblems of my body see;
In this water or this wine,
Emblem of my blood divine.
Oh, remember what was done
That the sinner might be won.
On the cross of Calvary
I have suffered death for thee.
(“Reverently and Meekly Now,” Hymns, no. 185)
Yes, the privilege of partaking of the sacrament is a profound expression of the Lord’s love for us. Once we understand how precious a privilege it is and what a blessing sacrament meeting can be, we would not choose to miss regularly.
More on this topic: See L. Tom Perry, “Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper,”Ensign, May 1996, 53–59; W. Mack Lawrence, “Sunday Worship Service,”Ensign, May 1991, 30–31; David B. Haight, “The Sacrament,”Ensign, May 1983, 12–14.
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