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Monday, July 1, 2013

Sacramental Symbols

I've been contemplating the sacrament lately and wanted to write a few thoughts I've been reflecting on.  I know I can increase the significance of the sacrament in my life, particularly when I think of Elder Oak's comment, "The ordinance of the sacrament makes the sacrament meeting the most sacred and important meeting in the church" (Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament, Oct. 2008).  A deeper understanding of the sacrament may give us a greater appreciation for it.

Gethsemane

Basic symbols include the clean white cloth covering the body and blood of Christ (like the linen covering His body in the tomb), the whole bread being torn and broken for us (as His body was), the wine/water we drink and make a part of us (the blood He shed in Gethsemane and the water that came from His side on the Cross [John 19:34]), and the sacrifices that this ordinance replaced (an unblemished, first-born, male lamb brought to the priest to be killed in your behalf).

Paul showed the vital impact of the sacrament by illustrating the "baptism" of the children of Israel (immersed through the Red Sea and subsequently watched over by God's Spirit in the cloud) and how they were fed by the meat and drink from the Lord afterwards (1 Cor. 10:1-4).  Their literal survival depended upon partaking of the flesh and water that were provided for them by Jehovah.

Isaiah understood the necessity of the Savior's cleansing power, and uses imagery surprisingly similar to our modern-day ordinance.  After declaring his distress at being unclean, he describes a seraph (angelic minister) coming to him with a live coal that he had taken from off the altar.  Isaiah received the coal in his mouth and was told, "thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged" (Isaiah 6:5-7).

A triclinium, the probable arrangement in the Upper Room

The sacrament is an ordinance where we renew, or revitalize, all the covenants we have made with God.  Elder Delbert L. Stapley said, "Another important purpose of the sacrament is to renew and keep in force the covenants and obligations which we have entered into with our God" (The Sacrament, 8 May 1956).  President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that we attend sacrament meeting to "renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. ... Each ordinance and requirement given to man for the purpose of bringing to pass his salvation and exaltation is a covenant" (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:345-6).

The sacrament prayers themselves demonstrate this.  The prayer over the bread includes the wording, "that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son," while the prayer over the water assumes the partaker is willing and is actually doing so.  David A. Bednar taught that we show our willingness to take upon ourselves the name of Christ at baptism, but that we fully take upon ourselves His name in the temple (Honorably Hold a Name and Standing, April 2009).  Thus, both prayers encapsulate our covenant making experiences here on earth, including those made in the temple and when receiving the priesthood.

One may ask, "Why does the water come after the bread?"  It's not just so we can wash it down...  As aforementioned, the two prayers are different and the discrepancies are meaningfully intended.  The prayer over the water reads, "that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them" (Mor. 5:2).  The "them" is referring back to the first prayer, to those who are His people, keeping His commandments as demonstrated by their partaking of the bread.  The willingness to take upon the name of Christ and keep His commandments is not repeated because that is now already expected and assumed if the participant is to gain access to the cleansing and enabling power of the blood of Christ.

The Garden Tomb

Perhaps my favorite symbolism of the sacrament is our ability to participate in the Lord's work and glory every week.  The bread is a symbol of Christ's body, which was resurrected, a reminder that all of us will obtain immortality.  The water is a symbol of the blood of the Lamb, His mercy and grace which redeems and perfects us so we may obtain eternal life.  "For behold, this is my work and my glory - to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39).  Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch in the second century, called the broken bread, "the medicine of immortality" (To the Church at Ephesus, 20:2).  Moroni, two centuries later, declared that we are "sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot" (Mor. 10:33).

Bread = Resurrection = Immortality
Water = Blood of Christ = Eternal Life

The Lord's whole purpose for us is to obtain immortality and eternal life.  As we eat and drink the symbols of our Master (a custom Jews followed - eating with their teacher as a symbol of acceptance and digestion of their teachings), we will become more like Him.  Every week, as we partake of the sacrament worthily, we will make Him more a part of us.  The sacrament truly is the sacred culmination of church meetings and I hope we'll more seriously consider its importance as we personally engage in the work and glory of God.

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