On His final mortal night with His specially chosen disciples, Jesus shared a Passover meal; introducing a new rite with bread and wine. The event itself has become known as the Last Supper. The new ordinance Christ introduced that night continues in most Christian churches today, and is usually called Communion, or the Eucharist. Within the LDS tradition, it is called the Sacrament.
A few months ago I posted a short poem about the Sacrament, but I’d like to spend a little more time sharing more of my thoughts and feelings on this beautiful ordinance, looking more broadly at the ordinance’s introduction before specifically looking at some of the symbolism used. I will specifically be looking at the LDS ‘version’ of the Sacrament, but I think many of the principles could have application in other faiths, too. If you’re not LDS and have questions about any differences, please feel free to send me a message or add a comment and I’ll be happy to reply.
The New Testament account of the introduction of the Sacrament shows us how the Saviour adapted it from the Passover meal, linking so beautifully the old law with the new. Jesus didn’t destroy the Law of Moses when He came. Rather, He brought with Him new light; new understanding; more blessings. It was a transition from one true gospel to a higher version of the same. His teachings of the Sacrament to His disciples were amongst the last He gave. It’s worth thinking about that. He had spent three years ministering, teaching and healing. Over that time He had carefully expanded the spiritual horizons of his chosen Apostles; giving them line upon line. And at the end of that time, when the Atonement itself lay immediately before Him and He would soon depart mortality, He taught them of the Sacrament.
I think that suggests an importance of this ordinance to our own spiritual journey that we may not realise, or sufficiently ponder. When we take the Sacrament today, do we ask ourselves whether we are receiving those greater blessings He offers us, and just how the Sacrament opens a door to them?
The account in the Book of Mormon teaches us other things, which are also worth pondering. These chapters are amongst my favourite in all of scripture, and I often spend time thinking about them. Just as with the New Testament account of the Last Supper, the Book of Mormon account of the Sacrament needs some context to fully appreciate just what was happening.
The resurrected Jesus had spent the day with many thousands of people, all of them believers. Indeed, they had been speaking about the prophecies of Christ when He appeared to them. His time with them had included a variation of the Sermon on the Mount and some other teachings, plus ministering. Each person within this sacred congregation had been given the opportunity to personally kneel before the Saviour, touching the wounds that marked his hands and feet. Our entire account of what He had planned for this first day with them lasts all of about six chapters, so what we have is likely only a small selection of the day’s events.
I like to try and imagine what it must have been like: to have been invited to stand before the Saviour of the world; to feel His atoning wounds; to listen at His feet. The experience must have been both exhilarating and a little overwhelming.
The text seems to bear that out as Jesus stands before the multitude, bidding His farewell for the day. He acknowledges that there has been so much happen that they aren’t able to comprehend it all, and instructs them to go to their homes and ponder on the day. “Now I go to the Father…” He said. (3 Nephi 17:4)
Now if you were there in that multitude, would you want Him to leave? The experiences of the day have been beyond the ability to describe, no doubt the feelings that have touched your soul like touching heaven itself. No, despite being overwhelmed, I just wouldn’t want the day to end. I would want Him to forever be with me.
That is what we find with the people here. While apparently no-one dared suggest to the Son of God that He might stay when He’d just said He needed to go somewhere else, He knew. He looked upon them, “…and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.” (3 Nephi 17:5)
Well, being our Saviour; being intensely concerned for the wellbeing of each individual in that crowd of thousands, He felt compassion, and stayed a little longer. And He does a number of things for them.
First, in a beautiful passage that itself teaches so much, He heals them. Then, He prays for them. What would it be like to hear Jesus Christ pray for you? “And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.” (3 Nephi 17:17)
Next, in another highly instructive passage, He blesses the children.
And then, He asks the disciples to bring bread and wine, and He introduces the Sacrament. But notice the wording used. Remember, this is in response to the people wanting Him to stay longer with them. What does He teach will be the result of them honouring the promises made as part of the Sacrament? “Ye shall have my spirit to be with you.” (3 Nephi 18:7, 11)
Wow. They never needed to lose that feeling of having Him near. He could forever after be present with them: through the Sacrament.
Do you and I understand this when we partake of those emblems? Do we truly appreciate just what is so freely offered to us? The blessings that can come to us through the Sacrament are well beyond what I suspect most of us appreciate.
In the next post I will talk about some of the symbolism involved in the Sacrament, including: the Table, the Cloth, the Priests, the Prayers, the Bread, the Cup, the Water (in place of wine in the LDS church), and the Right Hand.
In the meantime, let’s all try and make of this ritual what Jesus intended – as a way to draw closer to Him, allowing us to always have His spirit to be with us.