My first Sacrament meeting talk in quite a while

Talks and Lessons

I gave a talk last Sunday in Sacrament meeting. The assigned topic was the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper: How Christ Instituted It and Why. The talk took me about five hours to write and twelve minutes to deliver. It was reasonably well-written (I am fairly pleased with it) if not especially well-delivered.

I have posted it below for archival purposes, and in the event that it may one day be useful to someone else.

Christiane was asked to substitute as the Gospel Doctrine instructor as well, so our family took a double-hit (or the ward did, depending on your perspective). Actually, I speak only regarding myself — she taught a very good lesson on Mormon 7-9.

The text of my talk follows.


Good morning.

The topic on which I’ve been asked to speak today is the origin and meaning of the Sacrament, or the Lord’s Supper.

First let me mention that it is common wisdom in public address that you should loosen up your audience with some humor. Well, I discovered something interesting when I did a little digging for a joke about the Sacrament — there simply aren’t any. I suppose what we should take from that is just how sacred and important the Sacrament really is.

I should also mention regarding my talk that I always feel that the scriptures, the prophets and apostles teach far more effectively than I, so parts will probably sound familiar — it will be a kind of “talk soup” of addresses given by various Church leaders like Gordon B. Hinckley, Jeffrey R. Holland, and Dallin Oaks, along with relevant scriptural references. I may sneak in a few original thoughts of my own as well.

I hope that, once we’ve taken a closer look at the Sacrament and the Lord’s reasons for instituting it, we will have a greater appreciation for the weekly ordinance and that it will become more personal and more meaningful each time we participate in it.

A note on the origin of the word “Sacrament”: it comes from the Latin Sacramentum, which, according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, denotes a sum deposited by two parties to a suit (probably deposited in a sacred place) binding an agreement, oath of allegiance, or obligation. The Lord’s “sum” was to pay the price for our transgressions against our Father’s commandments. We’ll talk about the sum we deposit in a few minutes.

I’d like to begin by reading two accounts of the institution of the Sacrament by the Savior, one in the Old World and one in the New.

Luke 22:19–20
  19  And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.
  20  Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

3 Nephi 18:1–11
  1  And it came to pass that Jesus commanded his disciples that they should bring forth some bread and wine unto him.
  2  And while they were gone for bread and wine, he commanded the multitude that they should sit themselves down upon the earth.
  3  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.
  4  And when they had eaten and were filled, he commanded that they should give unto the multitude.
  5  And when the multitude had eaten and were filled, 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.
  6  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.
  7  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.
  8  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.
  9  And it came to pass that they did so, and did drink of it and were filled; and they gave unto the multitude, and they did drink, and they were filled.
  10  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.
  11  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.

Before I go on, I’d like to mention that it is always striking to me when Jesus is praying and He gives thanks. I find this to be such an incredible example of humility and gratitude; keep in mind that, although we all need both grace and works to be saved, He needed no grace, but was saved by His works alone, and yet, He constantly acknowledged His Father’s will before His own.

Elder Holland explains the setting of the Lord’s last supper (Ensign, Conference Report, November 1995):

“The crowning moment of eternity, the most miraculous of all the miracles, is at this point hours away. It will 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 has come. God’s own Son, his Only Begotten Son in the flesh, is about to become the Savior of the world.

“The setting is Jerusalem. The season is that of the Passover, a celebration rich in symbolism for what is about to transpire. 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 (Exodus 12:21–24). 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, of the great and last sacrifice of Christ which was to come (Moses 5:5–8).

“Now, after thousands of years and all the prophecies and all those symbolic offerings, the type and shadow is to become reality. On this night when Jesus’ mortal ministry is concluding, the declaration made by John the Baptist when that ministry had begun — ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ (John 1:29) — now means more than ever.”

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” (Matthew 26:26). “This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). In a similar manner he took the cup of wine, traditionally diluted with water, 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 is 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 (or testify of) the Lord’s death till he come” (Luke 22:20; Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:26).

With a crust of bread, always broken, blessed, and offered first, we remember his bruised body and broken heart, his physical suffering on the cross (John 19:28; Matthew 27:46). The Savior’s physical suffering guarantees that through his mercy and grace (2 Nephi 2:8) every member of the human family shall be freed from the bonds of death and be resurrected triumphantly from the grave. Of course the time of that resurrection and the degree of exaltation to which it leads are based upon our faithfulness.

With a small cup of water we remember the shedding of Christ’s blood and the depth of his spiritual suffering, anguish which began in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matthew 26:38). He was in agony and as Luke described, “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

The Savior’s spiritual suffering and the shedding of his innocent blood, freely given, paid the debt for what the scriptures call the “original guilt” of Adam’s transgression (Moses 6:54). Furthermore, Christ suffered for the sins and sorrows and pains of all the rest of the human family, providing remission for all of our sins as well, upon conditions of obedience to the principles and ordinances of the gospel he taught (2 Nephi 9:21–23). As the Apostle Paul wrote, we were “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

There are many levels of symbolism and meaning in the Sacrament. I could talk at great length about Christ’s sermons on the “bread of life” and “thirsting no more”. I could discourse for hours on the Passover and the Lord’s choice of this particular time of the year to institute the Sacrament. We could talk about the symbolism of the physical breaking of bread and crushing of wine from grapes. That is how every ordinance of the gospel focuses in one way or another on the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, and why this particular ordinance with all its symbolism and imagery comes to us more readily and more repeatedly than any other in our lives. It comes in what was called by Joseph Fielding Smith “the most sacred, the most holy, of all the meetings of the Church” (Doctrines of Salvation, compiled by Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-56, 2:340).

But, being honest with ourselves, we must admit that we do not always attach that level of meaning to our weekly sacramental service. How “sacred” and how “holy” is it to us? Do we see it as our own Passover, a remembrance of our safety and deliverance and redemption? With so very much at stake, this ordinance commemorating our escape from the angel of darkness should be taken most seriously, even solemnly. It should be a powerful, reverent, reflective moment. It should encourage spiritual feelings and impressions. As such it should not be rushed. It is not something to “get over with” so that the “real purpose” of sacrament meeting can be pursued. This is the real purpose of the meeting. And everything that is said or sung or prayed before and after in those services should be consistent with the grandeur of this ordinance.

In that sacred setting, the young men of the Aaronic Priesthood should prepare, bless and pass these emblems of the Savior’s sacrifice worthily and reverently, because, when they administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper — when the priests bless the bread and water (speaking the words that Jesus spoke), and when the deacons pass them to the congregation, as his disciples did — they literally represent the Savior (3 Nephi 18:3, 5–7).

In the simple, beautiful language of the sacramental prayers, the principal word we hear seems to be remember. In partaking of the Sacrament, we make four covenants or promises to the Lord: to eat and drink in remembrance of His body and blood; to take upon ourselves His name; to always remember Him; and to keep His commandments. The Lord in turn covenants that if we do these things, we will always have His Spirit to be with us (D&C 20:77, 79).

So, what should we be thinking about as the Sacrament is blessed and passed?

As Elder Oaks taught in the last General Conference, “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. When we partake of the Sacrament, we make a sacred covenant that we will always remember the Savior. How sad to see persons … violating that covenant in the very meeting where they are making it.”

We should ponder the Savior’s life, the sacrifice he made on our behalf, and the love He must have for us to have gone through all that He did. We should think about the example He set for us in all things, how our own thoughts and actions may have fallen short during the preceding week, and how we might improve during the coming week. We should consider the great blessings we have been given as members of the Lord’s Church, and the responsibility we have to be worthy of so great a gift.

I often think during the Sacrament of the unfairness of Jesus’ life, the unkind treatment He received, the isolation and rejection He experienced, and the injustices he endured. When I also face some small measure of these things because I am a member of His Church, I remember that Christ was also troubled on every side, but not distressed; persecuted, but never forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8–9). When difficult times come to us, we must remember that Jesus had to descend below all things before he could ascend above them, and that he suffered pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind that he might be filled with mercy and know how to succor his people in their infirmities (D&C 88:6; Alma 7:11–12).

We should think about the difficulties of Jesus’ life, always remembering that, however dim our days may seem, they have been darker for the Savior of the world. I take great comfort from this — it proves beyond all doubt that pain in this world is not evidence that God doesn’t love you. It is, after all, a wounded and scarred Christ, who still bears the marks of His torment and sacrifice, that has risen above the world and taken His place on the right hand of God.

Christ made a request of his disciples on that last night of deep anguish and grief: that they stand by him, stay with him in his hour of sorrow and pain. “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” he asked (Matthew 26:40). I believe this is also asked of us, every Sabbath day when the emblems of his life are broken and blessed and passed. We show Him during that hour the level of solemnity and respect that we accord to Him.

I testify that as we focus on the Savior during the Sacrament service, it will become more personal and more meaningful to us, and we will grow closer to Him.

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