The following is adapted from a message I presented as a Sacrament Meeting talk in two wards of the Sugar Hill Georgia Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In one of the earliest of our New Testament Scriptures, the Apostle Paul writes to the Christian community in Corinth. It appears they had taken the tradition of the Lord’s Supper, and simply merged it as part of a regularly scheduled raucous feasting (see 1 Corinthians 11:18–34 ). In fact, part of the spirit of these large social feasts that took the place of thoughtful worship had contributed to feelings of social division and contempt among the believing community – it was the transformation of something holy into a meaningless parody of “eat, drink and be merry.” (see Luke 12:16–21, 2 Nephi 28-7).
After a brief yet sharp condemnation of their practices, Paul, with apostolic authority and experience, explains the simple and sacred nature of what was known as the ritual, ordinance, or Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
This is still a common theme with modern Church General Authorities to make such corrections when deemed necessary. In 2001, Elder Vaughn J Featherstone presented a modern day epistle to the Church inviting each of us to reassess how we might approach and contribute to the experience of our Sacrament Meetings in the Church today. (see “Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament” Ensign, September 2001 – http://www.lds.org/ensign/2001/09/sacrament-meeting-and-the-sacrament?lang=eng )
“Throughout the Church each week”, he wrote, “members gather for the opportunity to partake of the sacrament. This is a deep and meaningful privilege, an expression of God’s love for His children. Among those who gather may be people who are suffering deeply, perhaps due to wayward children, financial stress, debilitating illness, death, depression, loneliness, despair, sin, or sorrow. It is important, therefore, that sacrament meetings accomplish their purpose. What we do in them may be more important to someone there than we would ever know. Sacrament meeting is often the primary means for rescuing the troubled soul.”
Sometimes, I like to recall and consider the circumstances of the attendants of that First Sacrament Meeting, in the event known to us traditionally as the Last Supper. As Paul explained in his letter, It was carried out by “[t]he Lord Jesus” himself, “the same night in which he was betrayed,” (1 Corinthians 11:23)
The last week of the mortal life of Jesus of Nazareth was filled with confusion and anticipation for his disciples. Jesus had entered Jerusalem amidst pomp and circumstance, with disciples and oppressed faithful alike hailing the entrance of their King.
Passover was coming, and the deeper meaning of the entrance of one who was whispered about as the Lord’s Anointed into the Holy City was not lost. Jesus had been compared with Moses and Elijah, two holy and revered prophets known for their bold ministry to the children of Israel during times of oppression.
This particular Passover week, the Judeans would have looked around and seen their Roman governors as being a new variation of the Egyptian oppressors of old. And now this Prophet, like Moses, like Elijah, had come to town.
Would the events of old be relived? Would, as the writings of the Prophet Isaiah had been interpreted, the Roman Oppressors truly be cut down by the acts of this so-called Anointed King? Jesus of Nazareth was growing a larger and closer knit group of devoted followers. Would they be confronting the Lord’s enemies like Elijah did with the Priests of Baal?
Would the champions of Rome fall as did the Goliath facing their youthful Davidic King walking into Battle?
It was towards the end of the week, that the special and sacred evening meal was held. Some of the Gospel writers suggest we see it as a Passover meal. Another gives the impression that it was earlier and distinct. Paul doesn’t signify, but in any case, it was a sacred, yet somber Royal Meal, with the Messiah and his most devoted servants
Today, prior to the blessing of the elements of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, a hymn was sung, recalling the death of the Lord. Prior to that ancient event, hymns also were sung, likely songs of deliverance and praise to the God of Israel, the deliverer.
At some point during or following the meal Proper, Jesus “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. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new [covenant] in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” (1 Corinthians 11:24–26)
Imagine with me how the disciples, hoping for some sort of triumphant victory in the coming days, would have received this message. After all, we, as the congregation receiving the elements stand today in their place.
But… Remember The Lord’s death? Broken body? Spilled blood?
Perhaps they recalled a particularly divisive message Jesus had delivered recently where Jesus had compared himself to the Manna – the Miracle Bread – that God had provided the Israelites in the wilderness during Moses’ leadership (see John 6). His own life, Jesus proclaimed, was a gift even greater than that announced by Moses. He was the Bread of Life, in Flesh and Blood, he proclaimed, sent down from Heaven from the Father. And while those who feasted on the manna of old were sustained for a time and then died, only those willing to feast on the living Banquet He was bringing to the Table should know and experience true everlasting life.
A promise of Abundant Life through the Savior was given. As the bread representing the body of the Lord was dispersed and received by each disciple present, what could they have been thinking?
What do you think about?
The Apostle Paul was not present at the meeting, but in time, he had come to intimately know those who were. Perhaps his message to the Corinthians Saints pondered the meaning of dispersing a symbol of the Lord’s one body among all the Disciples of Christ, dividing the body as it were. (see 1 Corinithans 12)
“For as the body is one, “wrote Paul, “and hath many [parts, or] members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”
Have you thought about the fact that when you refer to yourself as a ‘member’ of the Church, the word ‘member’ is in reference is to being, in essence, a body part?
Paul begins with the Unity of the actual Body of the Christ, which he then uses symbolically as a powerful image of the individuals that make up the Church. He then goes on to express the blessings and responsibilities that come as accepting our role as part of the unified Whole through Baptism, and as renewed and re-affirmed when we partake of the emblems of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper:
“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body… and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” For the body is not one member, but many.”
It is a beautiful call to unity. I find this symbol added upon when you think of the symbol of the Resurrection – if the Resurrection is the corruptible body coming together and becoming perfected, think of how that might correspond to the imagery of each of us being considered one part of the symbolic Body of Christ.
Every time we meet together, work together, worship together, after being dispersed, it is a symbol of the parts coming together in Restoration and Resurrection.
I find in this a beautiful parallel to the pre-baptismal Covenant found administered by Alma in the Book of Mormon.
“now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God… that ye may have eternal life— Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?” (Mosiah 18:8–10)
Think about that willingness to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. This is a powerful charge and calling extended to all of those who desire to be united in the Church of Christ.
It is inspiring. If you can have but the desire to show love and kindness to another who is suffering, you have a place. This doesn’t require you to know the depths of what the suffering individual is going through, nor does it require you to try to convince them that you understand them. It is an invitation to emulate the savior, and recognize suffering.
In the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, we have an account of the almighty God looking around and seeing suffering all around – and what does he do? He weeps! It is shocking – and paradigm shattering – to the observant prophet Enoch that one as great and powerful as God can be affected by the sorrow and ills of mankind.
“Yet,” he says, with dawning understanding, “You are there.” (see Moses 7:28–33)
Sometimes, it is just being there that matters, and acknowledging to the suffering individual that things indeed are bad – but that you’re there if needed. We do not need to – and in most cases should not attempt to– try and craft a theological justification or explanation for the cause of someone’s pain .
To explain why something is not as bad as it may seem. Especially if it comes as a result of illness, natural disaster, or results of another’s poor or even wicked decisions. Making up a reason why you feel it’s okay that God allowed something terrible to happen is rarely comforting, and, while well intended, often can do more damage than healing. There also have been many cases where it has served more to comfort the person giving the explanation than the person actually suffering.
Just be available. Be there. Make your love known. Be willing to grieve even if no other type of service is desired or welcome. Although you may not feel you are actually doing anything, I promise you and give my witness that you are.
If you are willing – partakers of the emblems of the Lord’s Supper today have affirmed again today that they are – The Lord will find a use for you. He will find people and lives for you to bless, both within the Church, and without. Likewise, he is even now working with and preparing others to lift you, support you, to bless you, and to comfort you.
Nobody is useless in the Lord’s Church. Nobody is useless, period. No calling or responsibility enhances one’s standing in the Kingdom of God more than the expression of true charity to another. It is the most basic element of our baptismal covenant.
“If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” and in fact, Paul goes on to say, “Nay, much more those members of the body, which [may] seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we [may tend to] think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; … that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
Another way of saying this was famously and clearly articulated by the Book of Mormon’s King Benjamin, “And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17)
When we partake of the emblems or symbols of the Lord’s Body in the Sacrament, we are renewing a pledge of allegiance to the Lord, and by extension, His people.
The disciples on the day these symbols were first extended to them were given a foretaste or vision of the Heavenly Victory Banquet, when it was promised they would unitedly dine with the King in his Kingdom at the Last Day (see Mark 14:25, Revelation 19:7–9). A great and beautiful Eternal Family Meal where all were welcome as Heirs and Children of the King. (see Luke 15:20–24)
Dark days would come before that vision was realized. Within a day, one of the Lord’s own servants had betrayed him, and Jesus of Nazareth was killed. A more devastating blow could not have come to Jesus’ disciples. It was if on the eve of the Exodus, Pharaoh had executed Moses. It was if the Priests of Baal had called down fire, and killed Elijah. Their David had just been speared by the Roman Goliath. It was a dark night of unmet expectations.
With Joy and Rejoicing we rightfully celebrate and remember the following Sunday, the day the reports came that the Stone in front of the Savior’s Tomb had been rolled away, the day when the news of the Resurrection of the Savior came to and inspired the Apostles. We rejoice in the spreading of this message of the new understanding of the Good News following the blessing of New Life. We smile in the story of the Two sorrowing disciples on the road to Emmaus who dined with the risen Lord, unawares, and only recognized Him as the bread was broken and blessed by him. (see Luke 24:13–32)
The participants of the First Sacrament Meeting were faithful individuals wracked by uneasiness, discomfort, doubt, and sorrow. And yet the Lord promised them a reunion, comfort, abundance, and peace as he gave them a charge.
Indeed, immediately following this event, Jesus let Peter know of the struggles that would yet be faced by him, even expressing that he knew that in the chaos to come, Peter would do the unthinkable, and even deny knowing the Lord. This is immediately followed up with – not condemnation – but words of trust, hope, pre-emptive forgiveness, and peace.
“[Peter],” the Lord said, “[Even knowing that I know this, ] Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (see John 13:37–38, 14:1-30 – it is best if we ignore the chapter division between Chapter 13 and 14 when we read! See note )
Brothers and Sisters, I believe this message to Peter sums up a key message we should take home with us as we partake of and participate in the Sacrament.
Those partaking of the first Sacrament were worried, hurting, and confused. The Lord let them know that, yes, final victory was further out than they had hoped, and difficult times would indeed still come ahead – but still, to remember this day.
Remember that even before the worst of the challenges manifested themselves, the Lord himself told them they would happen – but that he also promised ultimate victory. He affirmed that He loved them. That even though he knew they would make mistakes and at times lose sight of their faith, that he still loved them, would love them, and trusted them, and was even then preparing the way for their ultimate happiness, joy, and comfort… and that yes, they would indeed be reunited. And it would be joyous.
As much as many of us might wish that the end of sorrow and final victory over Evil would occur tomorrow, in all likelihood it will not.
For many of us, difficult times are ahead, in many different aspects of our lives. But the key message is to remember that the Lord is already ahead of us. That he knows we’re not perfect. That even though we may misstep and be the cause of some of our own sorrows, “Let not your heart be troubled.”
When we partake of the Sacrament and remember that night, we can feel, along with Peter, the assurance that the Lord is merciful and forgiving.
As we review and renew our standing covenant to lovingly remember and serve our Master, we can again have and be reminded of that assurance we have already been given that the Lord has already forgiven us, and we can be at peace when the hard times come. This ability to have this assurance and this peace is the heart of Atonement.
 Doctrine and Covenants 89:21 is often used as justification that God causes all things, and that he is offended when we fail to realize all this. It is important to note that the scripture does not equate God’s hand with God’s causing of the event. I see this as a call to recognize that in all that are occurring, his hand is there offering all the comfort he has to offer, and in many cases, is then prompting someone else to come bring their experiences to the table to help comfort. I see this as suggested that God is saddened and offended when people suggest that God does not care, and that he is not “there”.
 Thanks to Ardis E. Parshall for this beautiful perspective on this passage: http://www.keepapitchinin.org/2011/06/26/an-extraordinary-gospel-doctrine-moment/