Summary: All Christians are very familiar with the meaning of taking bread and wine as a symbol of Christ’s body and blood that he offered as a sacrifice for our sins. Most Christian churches offer these symbols once a month, while some offer it every three months or only on special occasions. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints its members come together each Sunday to partake of these emblems. This article examines the significance of this ordinance.
In his letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote: “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. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament 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 comes. 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. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:23-29).
All Christians are very familiar with the meaning of taking bread and wine as a symbol of Christ’s body and blood that he offered as a sacrifice to atone for our sins. In the Catholic Church this ordinance is called the Eucharis and in many Protestant churches it is known as communion, while in some other churches it is referred to as the Lord’s supper. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints it is referred to as the Sacrament.
Most Christian churches offer communion once a month, while some offer it every three months or only on special occasions. In almost all churches they give their members a small bread-like wafer and either wine or grape juice that has been blessed by a priest or minister. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints its members come together each Sunday to partake of the sacrament, which consists of taking a small piece of bread that has been ripped and torn from a regular slice of bread and then drink water a small sip of water from a cup. The wafer or bread is meant to represent the broken body of Christ that was crucified, and the wine, grape juice, or water is an emblem that represents Christ’s blood that he shed to wash away our sins.
The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that anyone who eats and drinks the emblems of Christ’s body and blood “unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, [by] not discerning the Lord’s body.” We usually interpret this to mean that if someone has committed a serious sin that they have not properly repented of, and still take the sacrament, that they are partaking it “unworthily.” However, as we more closely examine what Paul wrote we come to realize that this interpretation may be too limiting.
Before Jesus was born, whenever an Israelite went to offer a sacrifice, they brought the required animal to the temple and gave it to an authorized priest, who then laid it on an altar and took its life. However, whatever animal was used, it had to be one that was the property of the person offering it, otherwise the person giving the animal wouldn’t be sacrificing anything of their own. On the other hand, by offering something of personal value, the individual was, in effect, giving a personal gift from him to God.
After Jesus was resurrected instead of sacrificing animals, he now requires us “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Peter 2:5), but exactly what is a “spiritual sacrifice?” Paul explained that, among other things, it includes “the sacrifice and service of your faith” (Philippians 2:17) and to “present your bodies [as] a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). In our day the Lord has decreed, “Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (D&C 59:8).
It’s easy to understand how our service of faith can be a sacrifice to God, as well as how we can present our bodies to Christ as a living sacrifice to him, but what is a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and how do we offer that to God as a sacrifice?
When someone has experienced the loss of a loved one or the breakup of a romance, we say that they are broken-hearted, meaning that they are feeling extremely sad, blue, downcast, or in mourning. The term “broken heart” has a very similar meaning as we feel genuine remorse for having done something that God disapproves of.
The term “contrite” means being humble. The opposite of being contrite is to be proud, arrogant, boastful, or self-willed. Thus, when God asks us to offer him a broken heart and a contrite spirit, he’s asking us to feel godly sorrow for doing, or not doing, the things he has asked, and then humble ourselves before him in asking for his forgiveness. This is the definition of repentance.
But exactly how and when do we offer our broken heart and contrite spirit to God as a sacrifice? The Lord answered that question when he said, “And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day. For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High…on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord” (D&C 59:9-12).
“The Lord’s day” is defined as Sunday, therefore the Lord had decreed that we must “go to the house of prayer and offer up thy (our) sacraments on my holy day.” To emphasize this point Jesus then adds, “For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your [worldly] labors and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High.”
The Lord gives two reasons for why we need to meet together each Sunday. The first is so we can “more fully keep [our self] unspotted from the world.” During the week we can certainly spend time reading the scriptures and praying as a means to keep ourselves clean from the sins of the world, but the reason why we have been commanded to keep the Sabbath day holy is so that we can do that “more fully.” Sunday is a specific time that the Lord has designated for us to put aside our worldly cares and concerns and spend the day thinking about, concentrating on, and spending more time with those things that will help us become more like Christ.
Since the natural man is prone to violating God’s commandments, it only makes sense that the more we concentrate on worldly pursuits, the less time we spend on spiritual matters, and the further we tend to drift away from God. Therefore, one of the reasons we meet together every Sunday is to give us the opportunity to become spiritually stronger and to help purify our souls from the influence of the world. It’s like taking a spiritual bath as we take more time to immerse ourselves in the things of God.
The second reason God gives for meeting with one another on Sunday is so we can offer up our sacraments to him. We usually think that we come to church to take the emblems of Christ’s sacrifice, and we do, but it is also a time for us to bring our own personal sacrifice to the Lord. In fact, he makes that statement twice in this one verse. But how do we do that?
God explains that when we meet together it’s for the purpose of paying our devotion unto the Most High. It’s a time we have been given to commune with our Father in heaven, not only to worship him and give thanks to him as an expression of our love, appreciation, and gratitude for his mercy in offering us salvation from our sins, but to offer to him our sacrifice. And what we are to sacrifice to him is our broken heart with a contrite spirit.
But the question still remains: how do we do that, and when do we make that offering?
In the prayer that is said over the bread and water it says, “that they may eat and drink in remembrance of his body and his blood.” We know that Christ sacrificed his life so that we might live but most of the time we don’t really think about what that sacrifice was like.
By the time that the soldiers had finish scourging Jesus, his body resembled that of ground beef because his flesh had been ripped and torn hundreds of times from the multiple sharp shards at the end of the whip. His head was pierced with thorns that drew blood, and nails were driven through his hands and feet, leaving gaping holes, from which his blood ran out like water.
In addition to this, Jesus was mocked, spit upon, slapped in the face, and reviled. He was abused and tormented physical, mentally, and emotionally, and he willingly suffered all this in order to atone for our sins so that we might not have to suffer. What he asks is that we never forget what he endured for our sake by remembering his sacrifice each week as we partake with a grateful and appreciative heart the emblems of his body and blood.
The sacrament prayer then continues as it asks us to promise anew our willingness to take upon us his name by devoting ourselves to serving him with all of our heart, mind, strength, and soul. And as a sign that we truly do love him, we make a commitment that we are willing and have the desire to keep the commandments he has given us. As he has said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Thus, the way we show the Lord how much we love him is by how faithful we are in keeping his commandments. We can’t truly say that we’re a follower of Christ if we’re not willing to follow what he says. As the apostle John put it: “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
But, even after making that sacred promise to God himself, none of us fully honor it. Each week we violate that pledge multiple times. Therefore, as we take the sacrament, it becomes our privilege to offer our sacrifice to God. As the bread and water are being blessed and passed is when we have the opportunity to commune with our Father in heaven, coming before him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit to seek his forgiveness for the things we’ve done during the past week that were contrary to the commandments he’s given us.
And if we will genuinely offer him that kind of a sacrifice, he promises that we will have his Spirit to be with us. In other words, as we partake of the bread and water, and come to Christ in godly sorrow to repent of our sins, he not only is willing to forgive us but he promises to bless us as well.
Therefore, we come to church each week for the purpose of more fully keeping ourselves unspotted from the world, to remember Christ’s suffering, to give thanks and offer our heartfelt appreciation to God for Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, to personally renew with God the covenant we made with him at the time we were baptized, which was to take upon us the name of Christ and demonstrated it by keeping his commandments. Then, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, we ask his forgiveness for not living up to the promise we had made to him, and receive blessings from him.
The law of sacrifice that God gave to Moses had a similar purpose. The temple was the House of the Lord, so going there to offer him their sacrifice was like going into the presence of God to give him a personal gift from us by giving him the living body of their sacrificial animal to the Lord’s appointed priests, and do this with humility and a sense of sorrow for the sins they had committed. The very act of performing this ordinance was to be a very special and sacred moment in the life of each participant.
However, over time, this ordinance had become so familiar and was so commonly practiced that it became a meaningless ritual. Instead of it being a sacred event in their life, the ancient Israelites mindlessly went through the motions of bringing their sacrificial animal to the priest without ever thinking about why they were doing it. Instead, as soon as they had made their required sacrifice, they went back to their old way of living.
It’s easy in hindsight to see this fault in them, but too often we unconsciously do the same thing. By taking the sacrament each and every week, it’s easy to become numb to its purpose and so, as the bread and water are being passed, it’s all too common for people to have their minds occupied with everything except Christ. When the tray is passed to us, it is common for people to take the small piece of bread and the small cup of water without giving any thought to why they are performing this ordinance.
Near the front of each LDS chapel is a small table on which are the trays of bread and water, that are covered with a white sheet. And in front of that table are two priests. That table is symbolic of an altar on which lays the emblems of Christ’s broken body and his spilt blood that he sacrificed for us, and the white sheet is an emblem of his burial cloth. Under the law of Moses, the sacrifices were made in the temple. If we follow that pattern, each Sunday we can think of our chapel as a temple where we bring our sacrifice of a broken heart and a
contrite spirit to God’s authorized priests who stand at the altar.
The apostle Paul said, “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. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”
If we are mindlessly eating the blessed bread and drinking the blessed water, without taking the time to remember what Christ suffered and endured for us personally, and if we are not showing heartfelt gratitude to Christ by taking just a few moments to commune with God and offer him our sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, can we truly say that we are taking the sacrament worthily?
Paul says that we should examine ourselves to see if we are doing this, because otherwise we are eating and drinking damnation to our souls if we’re “not discerning (recognizing, respecting, valuing, appreciating, reverencing,) the Lord’s body.” And if we are not taking the sacrament worthily then we may not be worthy of the blessings that come with our offering of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
But what about those who come to church with small children? How can they take the time to commune with God as the bread and water are being passed when their children are squirming, fidgeting, playing, fussing, or need their parent’s attention?
There are two possible solutions to this problem. One is that before leaving home and going to church, a person can take the time to give a private heartfelt prayer wherein they say the very things they would have said as the sacrament is being passed if they were able to. This is what bishops have to do. Since they are required to make sure that the sacrament is being properly administered, they aren’t able to commune with God during that time.
The Lord is not a harsh taskmaster. He understands our circumstances and is patient and merciful. What he is looking for is a sincere desire on our part to show appreciation for what Christ has done for us and for us to be humbly repentant, and if our circumstances don’t allow us to do that when the sacrament is being passed, then doing it ahead of time is an acceptable alternative.
The second solution is for those who have children old enough to understand and behave themselves. Children need to be taught the sacred nature of the sacrament and how to behave when it’s being administered. They should at least be taught to be quiet during that time so that their parents can have the opportunity to commune with God without being distracted.
Although we can always talk with our Father in heaven anytime and anywhere, especially to repent, yet there is a unique significance attached to doing so while taking the sacrament. It is, or should be, a very personally sacred time for us where we come before the altar of God, as he has commanded, to partake of an ordinance that has, or should have, a special meaning to us. Those few minutes that the bread and water are being blessed and passed should be as sacred to us as going to the temple. Thus, for us, the sacrament should be thought of as a sacred moment.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Covenants