This is an archived copy of a post written by Conflict Of Justice (conflictofjustice.com). Used with permission: Conflict Of Justice may not agree with any alterations made.
This is an archived copy. See Original Article Here
The meanings of the sacrament prayers run deeper than they appear. Perhaps the lock-downs have helped us feel this. If I miss just one week, I find myself craving the sacrament like a parched traveler seeking an oasis. At first it seems like a straightforward formula, a simple renewal of baptismal covenants. Yet the precise structure of the prayer, and the fact that it is one of the earliest parts of the gospel restored, signifies profound importance.
It is the most frequent formal ordinance we experience, yet in some ways it is unique. Church members pass the trays to the person next to us, effectively each taking part in administration. It is unique in that priesthood holder may deliver the ordinance to himself (with proper approval of the Bishop).
The symbolism is unique. If the temple is spiritually useful as “the most material of the arts,” the sacrament is one of the most intimate of the physical ordinances, as it involves literally consuming physical matter into our bodies and integrating it into our very living tissue. While we do not believe this is a transubstitutive literal integration of Christ’s body, it is one of the most profound physical symbolism we can experience.
The sacrament is a wonderful communal event that enriches us each week and brings us together as congregations. Ritual meals in ancient Egypt and other ancient cultures are evidence that the sacrament has been around since the beginning and were often considered vital for social cohesion. The Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 14:18 claims Melchizedek broke and blessed bread and wine for Abraham: “and he brake bread and blest it; and he blest the wine, he being the priest of the most high.” This is supported by recent archaeological discoveries of Melchizedek’s temple in Jerusalem. Still today people commonly speak of “breaking bread” as helpful to group cohesion. The sacrament hearkens back to the solemn assembly of Adam with his posterity, and points forward to the coming of Christ when we will all (hopefully) sit at the great feast of the Lord’s table.
A deeper theological understanding is useful for bringing home the utter importance of the ordinance, preventing us from getting too lackadaisical–not showing up in flip-flops or looking at our phones–so that it can enrich us individually and unify us as ward families. But also, I find that the sacrament shows up frequently in my various studies of the gospel; it is integrated into so many things. It is directly plugged into the atonement of Jesus Christ, and serious study will lead us to a deeper appreciation and understanding of Christ’s grace and loving kindness.
Sacrifice & Endowment
Why have two repetitive prayers for flesh and blood? Why not combine it into one? This is a question I’ve had for a while, the duplicity of flesh vs. blood and bread vs. wine. In the Genesis creation, light separated from darkness, land from water. Division allows us to consecrate things for a sacred purpose. This is santification: putting things in their proper place.
Sanctification – Division allows us to sanctify our hearts by dividing the light within ourselves from the darkness. The sacrament prayers state the purpose is to bless and “sanctify” the bread and water–two things we all need to consume to live but which play discreet roles. The substance in bread generally builds our flesh cells and water goes to our blood.
Perhaps we can find clues about each role from the subtle differences between the prayers:
|O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he has given them, that they may always have his spirit to be with them. Amen.||O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee, in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this water to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them, that they may witness unto thee, O God the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his spirit to be with them. Amen.|
The most obvious difference is the association of the bread with physicality and water with spirit. “The bread-body clearly have reference to the more temporal aspects of the Atonement (mortality, physical death, and resurrection), and the wine-blood referring to the more spiritual aspects (sin, spiritual death, and justification.)” (ldsgospeldoctrine.net) The bread and water are emblems, meaning they represent “one thing to the eye, and another to the understanding.” We are supposed to see the bread/water and understand these specific spiritual concepts.
John S. Tanner explained: “As I partake of the bread, I remember the physical suffering of our Lord… As I drink from the cup, I remember the spiritual anguish of the Lord as he somehow took upon himself our sins.” The sanctification of our “souls”–the body and spirit united–suggest both the bread and water go together as symbols. Both food and water are necessary for a person to survive, and likewise both sacrament prayers are necessary for the sanctification of our souls.
Death & Rebirth – The death of Jesus on the cross and the resurrection is said to be represented by the sacrament table. Joseph in Egypt told of two fellow prisoners who had prophetic dreams, dreams which involved eating bread and crushing wine. The chief baker dreamt he balanced three baskets of bread on his head and birds ate from the loaves. Then, the chief butler dreamt that he crushed three branches of grapes into Pharaoh’s cup. Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams came true: the chief baker was beheaded in three days and hung from a tree, while the butler was restored to his royal position. The bread meant death and the wine meant exaltation.
The day when all this happened was the king’s “birthday,” which was actually his royal Sed festival–a sacrifice ritual renewing the king’s kingship. As I explained in my book Proof For The Book Of Abraham, this ritual was close to the very ritual Abraham experienced in chapter one of The Book of Abraham and which we see illustrated in Facsimile 1. It involved a vicarious sacrifice so that the king could be reborn and restored, and young Abraham served as that human sacrifice. It is no coincidence that this Sed Festival was the catalyst for Joseph’s rise in Egypt, and that the “bread” person died while the “wine” person was exalted. This clearly was a type of Christ’s death, in which we each could be resurrected and exalted by the sacrifice of the Father’s Only Begotten. The crocodile in Facsimile 1, representing the god of Egypt’s Pharaoh, consumed the sacrifice.
Baptism & Sanctification – In both prayers, we ask the Eternal Father in the name of Jesus Christ to bless/sanctify the sacrament so that we will partake/drink in remembrance of the Son and to witness that we uphold our baptismal covenants, and ask for the presence of the Spirit in return. But the bread prayer is where the meat of our baptismal covenant to God seems to take place. The bread prayer specifies the conditions of baptism: being willing to take upon ourselves the name of the Son and keep his commandments (which he has given us). This is only spoken in the bread prayer–our covenant to the Eternal Father.
Also, the bread prayer uses the word “partake” to describe our consuming the emblem, which suggests we are taking a portion or something or doing it as a member of a community. We join the assembly of Christ through baptism, covenant to bear one another’s burdens, and become co-heirs with our church family. Notice the wording of how we consume the emblems in the bread prayer vs. the water prayer: partake/eat vs. drink/do it.
Finally, the bread prayer requests that we “may always have his Spirit” which the water prayer only says “have his Spirit.” The additional “always” in the bread prayer suggests the gift of the Holy Ghost which we receive through the Melchizedek priesthood soon after baptism. It is an opportunity for the constant sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit:
“When we consciously and sincerely renew our baptismal covenants as we partake of the sacrament, we renew our qualification for the promise “that [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us]”… Latter-day scriptures also teach that the remission of sins, which is made possible by the Atonement, comes “by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost” (D&C 19:31; see also 2 Ne. 31:17). Thus, the Risen Lord pleaded with the Nephites to repent and come unto him and be baptized “that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day”…
The renewal of our covenants by partaking of the sacrament should also be preceded by repentance, so we come to that sacred ordinance with a broken heart and a contrite spirit (see 2 Ne. 2:7; 3 Ne. 12:19; D&C 59:8). Then, as we renew our baptismal covenants and affirm that we will “always remember him” (D&C 20:77), the Lord will renew the promised remission of our sins, under the conditions and at the time he chooses. One of the primary purposes and effects of this renewal of covenants and cleansing from sin is “that [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us]”” (Dallin H. Oaks “Always Have His Spirit”)
The water prayer apparently refers to spiritual endowment in general, and involves the prerequisites of personal worthiness to be affected by the Spirit:
“These words are said by the Lord’s authorized servant with his hands on our head: “Receive the Holy Ghost.” At that moment you and I have the assurance He will be sent. But our obligation is to choose to open our hearts to receive the ministration of the Spirit over a lifetime.
The experiences of the Prophet Joseph Smith offer a guide…
He chose to be humble before God…
Next, Joseph chose to ask of God. He prayed in faith that God would answer…
He obeyed inspiration when it was difficult…
He accepted correction and comfort from the Spirit.” (Henry B. Eyring “Have His Spirit”)
Developed From Early Baptismal Ordinance – John W. Welch has done great research in the book Reexploring the Book of Mormon about the origins of the sacrament prayers. The formula in the bread prayer can be clearly seen in 2 Nephi 31:11-13: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father? … Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.” Alma conducted baptism “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 his Spirit more abundantly upon you” (Mosiah 18:10). Jesus more explicitly used our current sacrament prayer formula: “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” (3 Nephi 18:7) You “witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you” and “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” (3 Nephi 18:10-11)
Chad Nielsen at Times And Seasons answer another question I’ve had: why did the audience of King Benjamin answer his query about receiving the name of Christ all at once with a single answer? It is hard to believe everyone randomly had the same answer unless it were some kind of pre-arranged answer.
“We are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days” (Mosiah 5:5). Given that “they all cried with one voice” and that “these are the words which king Benjamin desired of them” (Mosiah 5:2,6), their words may have been a pre-scripted or ritual response. Benjamin expounds on this covenant by stating that: “I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives” and that “I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts” (Mosiah 5:8, 12). Here we find the further development of ideas included in the sacrament prayers—covenants made with God to be obedient to commandments, take on the name of Christ, and remember to retain the name of Christ in their hearts….
Benjamin’s words were influential among the Nephites down to the time of Christ. Thus it is impressively consistent that Benjamin’s three main covenantal phrases should reappear in Moroni 4 in ways that show continuity with the old covenant pattern as well as sensitivity to the newer revelation at the time of Christ’s appearance.” (Chad Nielsen, Times And Seasons)
Matzevah Altar: A Sacrament Table? – The Matzevah stone recovered by archaeologists at the temple of Melchizedek is likely where his sacrament of bread and wine for Abraham took place. It is squeezed in its own small room, with a temple space to the left side and a grain press, sacrificial platform, and olive press to the right side. We know the Matzevah was not where animal sacrifices took place, as the drainage trench for blood leads to the platform over to the right. But experts have called its function likely “sacrificial.”
The sacrament table has been called an altar: “the Altar of Sacrifice is symbolized by the ‘sacrament table.'” While we the emblems of Christ’s sacrifice are laid on the table, and while I do think the white cloth I believe is reminicent of Christ in the tomb, the matzevah is actually called a sacred pillar. It is “also a headstone or tombstone marking a grave.”
The first matzevah we know of was the “pillow” stone of Jacob upon which he lay as he experienced the vision of heaven’s ladder, in Genesis 28 and 31. Jacob anointed the pillar with oil and “made a vow” to God, that “if God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God. And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house.” (Genesis 28:20-22) I have heard theologians remark that this vow sounds rather presumptuous. Jacob refused to worship God unless he receives all these mighty blessings?! Well, I rather find it ritualistic, and quite similar to our sacrament prayer. It is essentially a plea for God’s Spirit to provide for us. In Genesis 31:47 Jacob names the pillar Galeed, which translates to “the heap of witness.” Jacob requests bread and raiment and witnesses his dedication, much like our “witness” in the sacrament prayer.
Interestingly, Jacob swore: “This heap witness and pillar witness” that there would be peace between him and Laban. It was a symbol of their unity as a group of believers. He “offered sacrifices upon the mount” where the pillar was located “and called his brethren to eat bread; and they did eat bread, and tarried all night on the mount.” It was a communal sacrament meal. Later, in Genesis 35:14 Jacob “poured a drink offering” upon the pillar and called it the House of God, and marked his wife Rachel’s grave with it.
As I pointed out, Jacob’s construction of a bed to sleep on is quite coincidentally similar to Abraham’s recumbent position on the Facsimile 1 Sed Festival altar bed. Jacob’s vision of the “ladder” is quite similar to Abraham’s vision of degrees of glory in heaven, which is also embedded in Figure 1 of Facsimile 2.
In Exodus 24:4, Moses constructed his own sacred “pillar” matzevah, rising early in the morning at the first light of the sun exactly as Jacob did with his pillow stone. Moses “rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar, under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.” Guess what? This is exactly what Jacob’s pillar looked like according to legend. Furthermore, his matzevah stones were the very stones Abraham had used to sacrifice his son Isaac:
“Jacob took twelve stones from the altar on which his father Isaac had lain bound as a sacrifice, and he said: ‘It was the purpose of God to let twelve tribes arise, but they have not been begotten by Abraham or Isaac. If, now, these twelve stones will unite into a single one, then shall I know for a certainty that I am destined to become the father of the twelve tribes.’ At this time the second miracle came to pass, the twelve stones joined themselves together and made one, which he put under his head, and at once it became soft and downy like a pillow. It was well that he had a comfortable couch…” (The Legend of the Jews, Louis Ginzburg)
Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac was, of course, a type of God’s sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and that brings us back to what this is all about: the death and suffering of Jesus Christ for our blessing and sanctification.
I would even go so far as to say it is likely the altar for Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac was fashioned after what the Sed Festival altar that he experienced in Facsimile 1/Chapter 1 of The Book of Abraham. Facsimile 1 shows a lion couch–which is interesting considering The Legend of the Jews calls Jacob’s pillow “a comfortable couch.” Facsimile 1 is an Egyptian derivative with symbolism based on the Sed Festival but changed stylistically over the years. The Sed Festival altar of sacrifice, shown to the right, is a circle with a s quare outside it, and then four arrows pointing to each cardinal point on the compass, and twelve star points outside that.The sacrament table therefore may go all the way back to the altar they attempted to sacrifice Abraham on.
Millenial Sacrament – Jesus’s promise that he will “drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29) is alluded to as an event in the latter days:
“Behold, this is wisdom in me; wherefore, marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the drecord of the stick of Ephraim…
And also with Joseph and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, your fathers, by whom the promises remain;
And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them;
Unto whom I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times, in the which I will gather together in gone all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth;
And also with Michael, or Adam, the father of all, the prince of all, the ancient of days… Unto whom I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times, in the which I will gather together in gone all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth;” (D&C 27:5-7)
Remembrance – When Jesus instituted the sacrament in 3 Nephi 18, he commanded: “And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you… and yet shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you.” That part about the body “which I have shown unto you” is not in the prayer, which makes sense because we all have not been shown the body of Jesus. We can then ask, how are we supposed to remember something we have not been seen? Well, we can remember the resurrection and atonement involving the body, the sacrifice that happened, and the physical suffering even though we have only read and heard testimony of it. But it has been pointed out that our “remembrance” is also a looking forward to the millennial day when we may witness the body of Christ. “Remember to look forward to future date of second coming.” Always remembering and testifying through the sacrament looks forward to a celestialized permanent state of perfected resurrection.
The people were “filled” by the bread and wine in the 3 Nephi sacramental feast, which answers what Jesus had just promised them: “And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Nephi 12:6) By “always” observing the sacrament we will “always” be filled with the Holy Ghost in a fulfilled state that points toward millennial rest.
Feasting on the words of Christ is not passive consumption but hard work. It requires constantly taking on us the name of Christ, always remembering Christ, always looking forward with an eternal view, and always keeping the commandments. We don’t need to beat ourselves up when we fail this great challenge, as the prayer is that we are “willing to” do this. Are you really willing to?