The sacrament ordinance: 'heart of sabbath worship'

A number of years ago I sat in a stake meeting in which Elder Bruce R. McConkie, the visiting General Authority, was speaking. At a certain point in the meeting he invited questions from the congregation. One man asked: "What must we do to obtain eternal life?" I thought at the time that the question was too big, too broad for a brief answer. With no more than five seconds of pause, Elder McConkie responded: "Take the sacrament worthily every week."

No doubt everyone there recognized the correctness of the answer, but it is probably the case that many, like me, went away not appreciating fully the profundity of his response.

We need to attend church. We all need one another, and the social interaction among the saints — including loving and serving one another — is vital to our spiritual growth. But even more important, each of us needs the spiritual transformation that comes from partaking of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper and thereby allowing His Spirit to be with us. (See Moro. 4:3; 5:2.)

It is critical that we as members of the Lords' restored Church do all we can to cultivate the gift of the Holy Ghost.

First, the Holy Ghost cleanses. As the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost has the assignment to purify our hearts, to burn dross and evil out of our souls as though by fire, thus giving rise to the phrase "the baptism of fire." While such purification comes by virtue of the atoning blood of Jesus Christ (Moses 6:60), the Holy Ghost is the medium by which it takes place. (Alma 13:12, 3 Ne. 27:20.) Partaking of the sacrament provides a marvelous opportunity on a regular basis to seek after and obtain a remission of sins, to be cleansed.

"Who is there among us," Elder Melvin J. Ballard inquired, "that does not wound his spirit by word, thought, or deed, from Sabbath to Sabbath? We do things for which we are sorry, and desire to be forgiven, or we have erred against someone and given injury. If . . . there is a feeling in our souls that we would like to be forgiven, the method to obtain forgiveness is not through rebaptism, . . . but it is to repent of our sins, to go to those against whom we have sinned or transgressed and obtain their forgiveness, and then repair to the sacrament table where, if we have sincerely repented and put ourselves in proper condition, we shall be forgiven, and spiritual healing will come to our souls." (Improvement Era, October 1919, p. 1026.)

Second, the Holy Ghost directs. If we take full advantage of the quiet moments during which the sacrament is being passed, we will open ourselves to inspiration and direction from heaven. President David O. McKay taught that there are "three things fundamentally important associated with the administration of the sacrament. The first is self-discernment. It is introspection. . . . [Second], there is a covenant made. . . . [Third], there is another blessing, and that is a sense of close relationship with the Lord. There is an opportunity to commune with oneself and to commune with the Lord. . . . Meditation is a form of prayer. . . . Meditation is one of the most secret, sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord." (Conference Report, April 1946, pp. 112-113.)

If in fact the saints will take the time and make the effort during the week to involve themselves in brief but consistent moments of devotion (pondering, prayer, scripture study), then the Sabbath becomes the capstone of a week well spent, an occasion wherein the Lord can indicate His approval of our course in life through sending His Spirit to calm and lead us.

Third, the Holy Ghost empowers. Although the people of God must do everything in their power to resist the pulls of Babylon and refrain from compromise, it was never intended that we face life's challenges alone or that we engage the enemy in our own strength. (Hel. 4:13, Morm. 2:26.) Central to our faith is the knowledge that our Lord and Savior came to earth to die for us. Perhaps just as important is the fact that the Master desires to live in us, to empower us, to provide the strength and motivation and courage to face opposition and move forward.

"I am crucified with Christ," the Apostle Paul wrote to a group of saints in the meridian of time, "nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." (Gal. 2:20.) While Christian disciples are always commanded to work out their salvation "with fear and trembling," they are also reminded that "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Philip. 2:12-13.)

President Howard W. Hunter, in speaking of the centrality of the Savior in the celebration of Christmas, observed that "it is possible for Christ to be born in men's lives, and when such an experience actually happens, a man is 'in Christ' — Christ is 'formed in him.' This presupposes that we take Christ into our hearts and make Him the living contemporary of our lives. . . . The real Christmas comes to him who has taken Christ into his life as a moving, dynamic, vitalizing force." ("The Real Christmas," booklet, 1993, pp. 4-5.)

While ultimately salvation is the greatest of all the gifts of God (D&C 6:13; 14:7), surely the gift of the Holy Ghost is the greatest gift that can be bestowed upon us in this life. (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p. 5.) We work and we labor; we pray and we study; we do our best to chase darkness from among us and invite the light of truth into our lives (D&C 50:23-25) — all in an effort to cultivate and enjoy this consummate gift we know as the Spirit. It is our privilege — one that we may take for granted if we are not especially thoughtful — to partake regularly of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Through this means of renewing the promises we made at the time of baptism — to remember Him, to take His name upon us, to keep His commandments — we "may always have His Spirit to be with [us]." (Moro. 4:3.)

President Gordon B. Hinckley pointed out that "the sacrament and the partaking of these emblems is the very heart of our sabbath worship. It includes a renewal of covenants with God. It carries with it a promise of His Holy Spirit to be with us. It is a blessing without peer to be enjoyed by all." (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 561.)

Further, in this way we become truly one — one with our God and one with our brothers and sisters in the gospel cause. President Hinckley thus explained: "As we partake of the sacrament we all stand on a level plane before the Lord. Each is accountable for what he does as he renews his covenants with the Lord in that magnificent and beautiful and simple ordinance of the gospel which carries with it such tremendous meaning."

Robert L. Millet is dean of Religious Education at BYU and serves as president of the Brigham Young University 14th Stake.

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