As Jesus spoke to the people in Capernaum the day after feeding five thousand Galileans with five barley loaves and two small fishes, He perceived that many were more interested in being fed again than in His teachings. Trying to convince them of the greater value of His words, He declared, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:48-51).
Many were confused, hearing his statement only literally.
"To eat His flesh and drink His blood is a striking way of expressing how completely we must bring the Savior into our life — into our very being — that we may be one," Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said during the Saturday morning session of general conference on Sept. 30.
By sacrificing His flesh and blood, Christ atoned for the sins of the world and overcame physical and spiritual death, Elder Christofferson said. "Clearly then, when we partake of His flesh and drink His blood, it's when we receive from Him the power and blessings of His Atonement."
To receive atoning grace, one must believe and have faith in Christ, repent, be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost.
Elder Christofferson said the symbolism of the sacrament is beautiful to contemplate. "The bread and water represent the flesh and blood of Him who is the Bread of Life and the Living Water, poignantly reminding us of the price He paid to redeem us. As the bread is broken, we remember the suffering Savior's torn flesh. ... As we drink the water, we think of the blood He shed in Gethsemane and on the cross, and its sanctifying power."
Figuratively eating Christ's flesh and blood further means to internalize the qualities and character of Christ, Elder Christofferson said. "As we partake of the sacramental bread and water each week, we would do well to consider how fully and completely we must incorporate His character and the pattern of His sinless life into our life and being."
This suggests the need for a mighty striving, Elder Christofferson said. "We cannot be content to remain as we are, but must be moving constantly toward 'the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Ephesians 4:13). Like King Lamoni's father in the Book of Mormon, we must be willing to give away all our sins and focus on what the Lord expects of us, individually and together."
He then shared an account from a friend who, while serving as a mission president, drifted off to sleep one afternoon while studying 3 Nephi 27. He then began to dream of his life and he was shown his sins and poor choices in vivid detail.
Elder Christofferson's friend said, "Prior to the dream, I didn't know that I [had] such great need to repent. My faults and weaknesses suddenly became so plainly clear to me that the gap between the person I was and the holiness and goodness of God seemed [like] millions of miles."
He woke from his dream and dropped to his knees to pray for forgiveness and express his gratitude to Heavenly Father and to the Savior for what They had done for him. "While on my knees I also felt God's love and mercy that was so palpable, despite my feeling so unworthy," he said.
"It is important to recognize that this vivid revelation of his sins and shortcomings to this good man did not discourage or lead him to despair," Elder Christofferson said. "Yes, he felt shock and remorse. He felt keenly his need to repent. He had been humbled, yet he felt gratitude, peace and hope — real hope — because of Jesus Christ."
Holiness is what one seeks if "we yearn to dwell in Christ and have Him dwell in us," Elder Christofferson said.
In closing, Elder Christofferson said, "It is a consuming endeavor, and it would be terribly daunting if in our striving for holiness we were alone. The glorious truth is we're not alone. We have the love of God, the grace of Christ, the comfort and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the fellowship and encouragement of fellow saints in the body of Christ. Let us not be content with where we are, but neither let us be discouraged."