In chapter 11 of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians we read of his charge for them to “keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you.” Their lack of ability to adhere to this counsel can be observed in their approach to the ordinance of the sacrament. The correction offered by Paul can in large part be attributed to their perversion of four simple concepts in regards to this ordinance. Their approach was not in the right state of mind, it was not in remembrance of the Savior, they were not partaking worthily, nor for the right reason. If in our lives all four of those principles are not in place, then we ourselves are guilty of corrupting the sacrament just like the Saints at Corinth.
1. The Right State of Mind
“When ye come together therefore into one place, is it not to eat the Lord’s supper? . . . and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the Church of God. . . Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.” (1Corinthians 11:20-22)
They were clearly not in the right state of mind. Maybe we are not intoxicated by a strong drink, but could we be intoxicated, when participating in the sacrament, by thoughts that are not conducive to the Spirit or centered on the Lord? President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “Every thought that one permits through his mind leaves its trace. Thoughts are things. Our lives are governed a great deal by our thoughts.” The easiest time for God to help us in governing our lives is during the reflection and repentance that takes place throughout the ordinance of the sacrament. If our thoughts are elsewhere, we are doing ourselves a disservice.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell pointedly asserted that, “some of the best sermons we will ever hear will be thus prompted from the pulpit of memory, to audience of one.” The sacrament provides a great opportunity for the Holy Ghost to bring to our remembrance our improper conduct from the previous week and then preach personalized corrective sermons. While the emblems are passed. . . . Are we thinking about His advice or thinking about sports? Are we focusing on leveling up on the game on our phone or reaching a higher spiritual level? Are we seeking out spiritual media like the scriptures or hymns with the intention of strengthening our spiritual status? Or are we seeking out social media like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hopes of strengthening our social status?
2. In Remembrance
“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you, this do in remembrance of me.” (1Corinthians 11:23-24)
“When you look in the dictionary for the most important word, do you know what it is? It could be ‘remember.’ Because all of you have made covenants – you know what to do and you know how to do it – our greatest need is to remember. That is why everyone goes to sacrament meeting every Sabbath day, to take the sacrament and listen to the priests pray that ‘they always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them.’ ‘Remember’ is the word. ‘Remember’ is the program.” (President Kimball)
This principle of remembrance was effectively taught in an address by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. “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. . . That is why every ordinance of the gospel focuses in one way or another on the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, and surely that is why this particular ordinance with all its symbolism and imagery comes to us more readily and more repeatedly than any other in our life. It comes in what has been called “the most sacred, the most holy, of all the meetings of the Church”. . . Perhaps we do not always attach that kind of meaning to our weekly sacramental service. How “sacred” and how “holy” is it? Do we see it as our passover, remembrance of our safety and deliverance and redemption?”
The ancient Israelites celebrated the passover, and would offer an unblemished lamb from the firstlings of their flocks looking forward to the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For us, “Remember is the word. Remember is the program.” We remember Him, and memorialize our escape from the angel of darkness, each week as we partake of the sacrament.
“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” (1Corinthians 11:27)
How do we know if we are worthy to partake of the sacrament?
John H. Groberg expressed these thoughts on the subject: “What does it mean to partake of the sacrament worthily? Or how do we know if we are unworthy?If we desire to improve (which is to repent) and are not under priesthood restriction, then, in my opinion, we are worthy . . . If, however, we refuse to repent and improve, if we do not remember him and keep his commandments, then we have stopped our growth, and that is damnation to our souls. The sacrament is an intensely personal experience, and we are the ones who knowingly are worthy or otherwise.”
As long as we are not under priesthood restriction, we are worthy when we offer a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Truman G. Madsen expanded on these two requirements, “We use the word broken heart to mean radically frustrated in a romance. It may very well mean that, but in the scriptural usage a broken heart is a malleable, meltable, moveable art, and a contrite spirit is an honest acknowledging spirit that says I am in fact dependent on what I am in fact dependent on, there is no self-deprecation here, only honesty. I need help. When that is acknowledged it comes.”
If we humbly recognize that we have done wrong and need help, and couple that admittance with a desire to improve, shown by our efforts the next week, then we are worthy. We should also understand that worthiness and perfection are not the same thing. Cecil O. Samuelson taught, “One can be fully worthy in the gospel sense and yet still be growing while dealing with personal imperfections . . . Worthiness is vital, but it is not the same as perfection . . . It may reflect more on your current direction than on your final destination.” We do not have to be perfect to use the sacrament, that would defeat the purpose. It is all about the direction we are headed in.
4. The Right Reason
“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”
The sacrament provides an opportunity for us to hold ourselves accountable each week, for every one to “examine himself.” It is a chance to look at what we are doing right and what we could improve on. A look at a little bit of Old Testament symbolism can give a greater understanding of the reason for the sacrament.
Brother Chad H. Webb taught that in Leviticus chapter 1, “the Lord teaches the children of Israel to voluntarily bring an offering unto the Lord. The offering was an animal which was to be a male without blemish, which would be accepted to make atonement for the person who came to worship. The person then killed the animal, and the priests would sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar. . . Next, the offering was cut into pieces—the head, the inwards, the legs, and the fat. The head represented our thoughts; the inwards our heart, our feelings; and the legs, our actions. The symbolism reminds us of the sacrament as we commit to love God “with all [our] heart, might, mind and strength.”
This typification can be very insightful when considering the words of Neal A. Maxwell. “So it is that real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed! Such is the “sacrifice unto the Lord … of a broken heart and a contrite spirit,” a prerequisite to taking up the cross, while giving “away all [our] sins” in order to “know God” for the denial of self precedes the full acceptance of Him.”
What does it mean to place the animal in us upon the altar and let it be consumed? And how do we do that?
The animal in us is the natural man. It is any thoughts, desires (or feelings), and actions that are not in line with God’s. The ancient Israelites placed animals upon the altar, we offer up the natural man in us. Every week when we partake of the sacrament we have an opportunity to place our inappropriate thoughts, desires, and actions on the altar and let them be consumed. Doing this consistently allows a developmental change in our very nature to take place.
This elimination of the natural man within us, made possible by Christ’s grace, allows us to have the capacity to change our own circumstances. “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums.” (Ezra Taft Benson) Brad Wilcox worded it this way, “Christ’s grace does not just correct; it endows. It does not just cleanse and console; it transforms – and not just in a narrow way from smoker to nonsmoker, drinker to nondrinker, but from unholy to holy, from justified to sanctified, from human to divine.”
It is imperative that this process takes place often. Because as Boyd K. Packer declared, “We all live on spiritual credit. In one way or another, the account builds and builds. If you pay it off as you go, you have little need to worry. Soon you begin to learn discipline and know that there is a day of reckoning ahead. Learn to keep your spiritual account paid off at regular intervals rather than allowing it to collect interest and penalties.” Luckily for us, the regular intervals are every week. But we must not get caught in the trap of just paying off the interest on our spiritual debt and never actually removing the credit. That would be the equivalent of repenting of the same things every week and never actually making any long term changes, or offering up the same thoughts, desires, and actions without ever giving them up and letting them be consumed. The purpose of the sacrament is not just for Jesus to correct and cleanse the same things each week, (get rid of the interest) it is to endow us with power, to strengthen, transform, and sanctify us. Not to merely take us out of the slums every week, but to take the slums out of us!
In conclusion I’d like to share one last thought. “As Latter-day Saints, we covenant in the waters of baptism and during the sacrament to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. On such occasions, do we take his name in vain? There are ways we can use the name of Deity insincerely.” (Brad Wilcox) Having taken upon ourselves His name, we are required to live so that those who know us know Him. I look at it as if I am figuratively wearing a jersey with His name on the back of it. In a way, every week when we renew our covenants, the Savor asks us: Did your performance bring honor or shame to my name?
I like to look at the sacrament as a weekly interview with the Savior. I try to ask myself questions that I feel like He would ask me. Here is a list of those questions, provided with the hope that your approach to the sacrament from now on will be more personal and productive.
Weekly Review: Sacrament Interview Questions
How hard did I work on my own imperfections this week?
How did I react to the imperfections and potentially offensive acts of others?
In what ways did I rely on the Lord this week?
How was I delivered from a “prison” this week?
Am I seeking to build God’s kingdom or my kingdom?
How did I share the gospel this week?
How did I influence my family or friends for good this week?
How did I seek to climb up the spiritual truth ladder this week?
In what ways did I act as a Christ Figure?
In what ways could I try a little harder to be a little better?
What am I doing that I need to stop doing?
What am I not doing that I need to start doing?