It seems to me that the sacrament means much more than simply sitting quietly and thinking of Christ while we partake of emblems that symbolize his atonement. The sacrament is a vital element in the repentance process. “Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. … Thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.” (D&C 59:8, 9.)
If we approach the sacrament in the attitude of actively bringing a personal, specific offering—a humble promise to conquer a weakness that is separating us from the Savior—the sacrament will have much greater meaning in our lives.
Everything about the sacrament is designed to help increase our understanding of the atonement. From the time the sacrament was first instituted men were commanded to partake in remembrance of his atonement. “This do in remembrance of me,” the Savior commanded the twelve in the upper room. (Luke 22:19.) The priests who bless the sacrament in our wards and branches each week pray “that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy son” and “that they may drink it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them: that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him.” (D&C 20:77, 79.)
But how do we obtain a real remembrance of Christ? What opportunities does the sacrament provide to bring us closer to the Savior? For one thing, the concept of taking upon us the name of Christ, referred to in the sacramental prayer, helps make us aware of our personal relationship with the Redeemer. We take Christ’s name upon us when we join his church; we come to be known as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But there is far more to taking upon us the name of Christ than that. Because of our covenant of baptism, we have become “the children of Christ,” “spiritually begotten” by him. (Mosiah 5:7.) His name is the only name “whereby salvation cometh” (Mosiah 5:8), and as we live worthy of that name, we develop a constant awareness and witness of the power of Christ’s atonement.
When we actively honor the sacramental commitment to keep the commandments, we receive spiritual strength. And once we begin to understand the importance of renewing our covenants through personal action and increasing commitment, we realize that learning to partake of the sacrament in the fullest sense requires more than sitting through two sacrament periods each Sunday. It is a task that involves all aspects of our lives. That is not surprising, because the covenants renewed by the sacrament ultimately demand that we render our “whole souls as an offering unto him.” (Omni 1:26.) But it can appear to be an overwhelming task until we realize that the sacrament itself divides the process of perfection into week-long segments that we can manage. The sacrament is a means that allows the Lord to take us by the hand, cleanse again our souls, lighten our burdens, and lead us in his ways.
Looked at in this way, the sacrament becomes a process of covenant-making, a process of remembrance and recommitment. How can we best remember and recommit? It would be a mistake to think there is some easy or mechanical answer to that question. However, there are some rather simple things that we can do which will greatly enhance the power of the sacrament in our lives. Briefly stated, we must come to the sacrament prepared to covenant with the Lord. We must have put in sufficient effort prior to the meeting before we can honestly agree with an “amen” that we “do always remember him.” Frequent meaningful prayer and pondering the scriptures are two prime aids in remembering the Savior. We cannot and do not “remember” Jesus Christ on a spiritual level unless we are continually striving to fill ourselves with the things of God.
Moreover, we need to be ready to make some specific commitments. One effective way is to spend a half hour early Sunday morning reading the scriptures, and then spend a second half hour prayerfully reviewing our commitments from prior weeks and asking the Lord what he expects of us now—during the next seven days. The Lord doesn’t expect us to work on everything at once, but if we will listen sincerely, he will open our minds to the things he expects us to be doing now. When we have received that guidance from the Lord or when we have reached a decision ourselves if direct guidance seems slow in coming at first—we are prepared to “offer up” some specific commitments as we partake of the sacrament. Writing down these commitments helps us remember them and emphasizes their importance.
Now, when we engage seriously in the process of covenant-making this way, it does not guarantee that the path toward perfection will suddenly become smooth and easy. Discouragement may come, because as we become more definite in our commitments to the Lord, we become more aware of our weaknesses in failing to keep those commitments, and our burden of guilt may increase. However, discouragement is not the appropriate response; instead we should feel increased humility and greater appreciation for the atonement and for the Lord’s mercy. In this way the sacrament becomes very reassuring. It is a weekly reassertion from the Lord that despite our constant failings, he is ready to begin to work with us anew. As we apply the atonement in our own lives, to our own weaknesses, remembering the Savior becomes far more than mere mental reflection.
As we draw closer to Christ, remembering becomes an ever-expanding awareness of Christ’s love, and we become bound to him with ties stronger than death. What begins as a mental gesture of recollection ultimately grows into a transforming power capable of keeping us completely receptive to the promptings of the Spirit and in perfect harmony with the Savior.