The first thought that is with me as I enter in to a study of this chapter is not directly related to the content of this specific chapter,onetheless very pertinent. It is the reality that these are instructions given from God to man. These priesthood ordinances are revelations from heaven. It is not man’s attempt to understand God with his finite abilities. It is not man saying, I will replicate what Christ did in antiquity and these are the words that I think best would accomplish this task. Rather it is God’s word to man which man accepts and incorporates into his life patterns.
These sacramental prayers (sacred and elemental, this is my thinking alone and is not historical) are invitations to commune intimately with the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in his Atonement. The prayer on the bread featured in this chapter is rich in meaning and purpose.
The origins of the word “Sacrament” suggest a solemn oath, sacred.
“an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace”
…from Old French sacrament “consecration; mystery”
…directly from Latin sacramentum, “a solemn oath”
…A Church Latin loan-translation of Greek mysterion
… The Latin word sacramentum in its secular aspect was used of any engagement or ceremony that binds or imposes obligation
By 3c. it was used in Church Latin for “a mystery, a sacrament, something to be kept sacred; the gospel revelation; a Church sacrament.” In theology, particularly, “a solemn religious ceremony enjoined by Christ, or by the church, for the spiritual benefit of the church or of individual Christians, by which their special relation to him is created or recognized or their obligations to him are renewed and ratified.”
The meaning “arcane knowledge; a secret; a mystery; a divine mystery” in English is from late 14c. (Wyclif); from mid-14c. as “a solemn oath, pledge, covenant; a ceremony accompanying the taking of an oath or the making of a pledge.”Etymonline.com, “Sacrament” (emphasis added)
I’ve perhaps never looked at as intensely the Sacrament as “solemn oath” or “a binding covenant.” And curiously, Moroni does not use the word “sacrament” anywhere in his record. He explains this as the “administering the flesh and blood of Christ unto the church.” (vs. 1)
I want to go in two directions with my study presently:
- Understanding the teachings from John where he talks about his flesh and blood, in which many rejected him. (what chapter?)
- Beginning to break apart the actual prayer into parts and pieces. (Let’s start here.)
The first petition brought forward in the prayer on the bread is this: “We ask thee… to bless and sanctify this bread.” Now with my use of the elipsis, I just skipped over the phrase “in the name of thy son, Jesus Christ.”
In other word, Father who art in heaven, we are addressing thee. Via the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, we are asking thee to consecrate, set apart, make sacred, or transform into something holy, this common slice of bread for purposes that will be momentarily articulated, for the benefit of the souls (body and spirit, which exist in whole as a spiritual experience) of everyone present who is willing to participate in eating it.
Purpose Number One: Remember the Body of Christ
The first stated purpose of participating in the breaking of bread is “that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son…” What is there to remember about the body of Christ, the son of God? I think the first thing to remember is that for Christ, this was an “in-body” experience: his life, his example, his suffering, his death. But especially that the Atonement was an experience that he had to have in a physical body. It was not metaphorical, or of spiritual substance only. The tangibleness of the suffering experienced in his body was literal. It really happened in the flesh. Christ suffered, and this is what we are remembering.
This is a distinct doctrine of our faith, the embodiment of the Spirit as the primary purpose of mortality. Christ did it. We are doing it too.
Purpose Number Two: Witness to God a Willingness to Take Upon Us the Name of His Son (Jesus Christ)
I am sitting squarely with the question: Am I willing to take upon me the name of Christ? Fully, whole-heartedly, completely? I don’t know that I have really internalized the impact of such a commitment.
Paying attention the exact wording, the prayer says “to take upon them the name of thy Son.” That Jesus Christ is the Son of God is defined at the beginning of the prayer. His relationship to the Father, who is also our Father, is emphasized repeatedly throughout the rest of the prayer by referencing him as “thy Son.” Here is Jesus Christ, thy Son, and here are these who are witnessing that they are willing to take his name upon them.
This theme or this idea of taking upon us the name of Jesus Christ is documented better in the Book of Mormon than anywhere else in scripture.
Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine.Mosiah 26:18
I find the intimacy of ownership here that Christ makes upon his people, upon me, compelling.
Mosiah 5, King Benjamin talks exhaustively about what it means to take upon us the name of Christ. It was his desire to leave his people under this new name. It was the final invitation given to them after they had already entered into a covenant to do the will of God.
(I am feeling like I should have a broader and more exhaustive understanding of the covenants that I have already made, that I might remember these covenants and that I might better understand the purpose and significance of such covenants.)
Yet, I find it fascinating that the covenant that the people of King Benjamin made was a precursor to the invitation to take upon them the name of Christ.
One other side note from Mosiah 5, when talking about the covenant that the people had made, King Benjamin uses phrases interchangeably:
- a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, (vs. 5)
- the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant. (vs. 6)
- the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives. (vs. 8)
To me, doing the will of God, and being obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command, are one in the same.
Purpose Number Three: Witness to God the Father that We May Always Remember Him (His Son, Jesus)
I was about to use the phrase “that we do always remember him,” but that would be a covenant that is setting us up for failure, rather than a covenant that honors both our agency and our mortal weakness. And yet, that wording if found in the Sacramental prayer on the water.
What does it mean to always remember Him? How it is it different than taking His name upon me? To take his name upon me suggests representation or doing what Christ would do. However, to remember Him, that is an act of reflection and honor of the life He lived and who He is.
Following a string of footnotes, I’ve found this little treasure in the Joseph Smith Translation:
20 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them, and said, Take it, and eat.
21 Behold, this is for you to do in remembrance of my body; for as oft as ye do this ye will remember this hour that I was with you.JST, Mark 14:20-21
This phrase helps me to think of what we are to remember. He told his disciples that the breaking of bread would remind them, every time they did it, of that last supper before his Atonement (suffering, death, and resurrection) that he was with them. There is something more transcendent in this statement though that feels as if He is talking to me: to remember where Christ has gone with me. It is as if when I look back at those hard, defining spiritual moments in my life, Christ is saying to me: remember I was there with you.
Purpose Number Four: Witness Unto God that We Are Willing to Keep His Commandments Which He Has Given Us.
I’ve been contemplating this thought: false traditions create in our minds commandments or expectations that are not from God or Jesus Christ. Stress is often an indicator of such erroneous actions. I find it therefore instructive that we are to witness a willingness to keep the commandments of Christ, and then the clarifying statement (which has always been here) “which he hath given them.” False traditions cause me to look beyond the mark for things that are not really required of me. I really appreciate this clarifying point at the end of the sacrament prayer then that gives me a reason to search deeper for truth, calling all my personal, preconceived assumptions (which have caused so much harm in the past) into question.
What are “His Commandments” and which are the commandments of my own making? The Sacramental prayers do not define the answer for this question. So I go in two directions with this: First, it is the law of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (which I will define momentarily), and second, it is all those commands dictated to man personally by revelation through the means of the Holy Ghost (see recent quote from President Nelson).
First, the law of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These commandments may be summarized as such:
- Love God and Love your neighbor.
- Faith, Repentance, Baptism, and Receipt of the Holy Ghost.
- Receive all ordinances in the house of the Lord, and endure to the end.
(These are not checklists items, but rather processes by which we enter into and never stop developing, or laboring to improve upon.)
Second, commandments from Christ come via revelations:
Let Him know through your prayers and your actions that you are serious about overcoming the world. Ask Him to enlighten your mind and send the help you need. Each day, record the thoughts that come to you as you pray; then follow through diligently.President Russell M. Nelson, October 2022, Sunday Morning Session
There is no one perfect way to understand this prayer and ordinance. For I could continue to study all that has been said and expounded upon the Sacrament for a very long time, so rich, so profound, so intimate are the covenants and blessings found herein.
Purpose Number Five: That We May Always Have His Spirit to Be with Us
Is this the promise of the companionship of the Holy Ghost to be with us continually? God intends for us to always have His Spirit to be with us. And why not? If a thousand millennial years is the eventual destination of the righteous, those that are willing to progress, be educated, and learn the lessons of mortality, then it stands to reason that we can arrive at that state sooner if we will but follow Him. And what is that state? To live constantly in the Light of His love. It is to have the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God, with us always.
A footnote from the topical guide entry on “Spirit of God” stands out to me: Alma 61:15. Moroni gives instruction to conduct the war according to the Spirit of God. So even in matters of war, the Spirit of God could guide them. And I think this is the point. Life goes on; life is to be lived, and so it is to be lived with the Spirit of God.