The Sacrament (part 2)

kenneth cope - FaceToFace-cover
 

(Continued from last week…)

Wow…awesome! Now that I have your attention…

This last post appears to have generated a lot of individual thought and discussion…which is a good thing, right? If it did nothing else, than to cause some of us to think more about what we personally feel and believe regarding the sacrament, then much good has come of it. However—and I was saddened about this—it also seems to have generated a bit of controversy. Please know, it was never my intention to be controversial. I was simply raising my voice to focus on Jesus, which is something I have felt passionate about for years.

Now, I never said that “renewing our covenants” was a bad idea, or bad doctrine. Rather, I made it known that I regretted that the words “renewing our covenants” had become our most prominent catchphrase when it came to defining the purpose of the sacrament. Also, I underscored the fact that Jesus, Himself, EMPHASIZED again and again that the ordinance He instituted was one of remembering Him, His body and blood, and when we would try to really do so, we would be blessed to have His Spirit. Those are HIS words, not mine. And He does not lie. So count on Him to keep that promise!

It’s interesting how many of you felt the need to correct me here, and certainly for some of you, that was motivated out of concern for me, and/or others whom you feared I might wrongly influence. For this genuine concern, I thank you.

Many of you copied and pasted links for me to look up, no doubt, your way of showing to me that the sacrament IS about renewing our covenants. Please know…I have the Internet, and a smart phone. :) And, I have listened to our beloved leaders since I was a boy. I know that our apostles and prophets have used these words in their talks. I know there are hundreds of statements at LDS.org about “renewing our covenants” through the sacrament…but again, you are missing my point. Just this past week, I was made aware of a recent General Conference Leadership Training (April 2015) that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles held for all General Authorities, Area Seventies, and General Auxiliary Presidencies of the Church. This week, I was able to review some of the recorded video of the training. The training’s focus was on Sabbath Day Observance, both at church, and in the home. Members of the First Presidency and the Twelve took turns addressing the audience of church leaders. Elder Neil L. Andersen, the newest member of the Twelve, arose to take his turn and said: “The title Renewing Our Baptismal Covenants is not found in the scriptures. It’s not inappropriate.” Motioning to the audience, he said: “Many of you have used it in talks.” Then motioning to the Twelve and First Presidency sitting with him on the stand, he said: “We have used it in talks. But it is not something that is used in the scriptures. And it can’t be the keynote of what we say about the sacrament.” He later went on to say: “The sacrament is a beautiful time to not just renew our baptismal covenants, but to commit to [our heavenly Father], to renew all our covenants, all our promises, and to approach Him in a spiritual power that we did not have previously.”

So, if according to Elder Andersen, renewing our baptismal covenants shouldn’t be the keynote of what we say when we talk about the sacrament, then what should the keynote be? I would invite you to not be lazy and take the easy way to support your position on this or any other doctrine of the gospel by doing quick searches on the Internet. I am encouraging you to get into the Holy Scriptures (use the Topical Guide and Index to assist you) and search every reference regarding the sacrament, and see if you don’t hear in your own spirit, as I’ve heard in mine, the voice of the Savior encouraging you to, first and foremost, let it be about Him and in remembrance of Him when you partake of the emblems of His flesh and blood. He has His reasons for wanting it this way.

For instance, speaking about covenants, here is a very serious question for all of us, me included! How does your heart feel about “renewing covenants” that you know you are going to break? Stay with me on this, as I explain…

In the Book of Mormon, Captain Moroni was in battle with the Lamanites. God strengthened Moroni’s forces with such astounding power that the Lamanites were frightened and did not want to continue fighting. Moroni, upon seeing their terror, commanded his men to stop shedding the Lamanites’ blood. Then Moroni told the commander of the Lamanite forces that the Nephite armies would let them live if they would deliver up their weapons of war, and return to their own lands with a covenant of peace, promising that they would not come again to war against the Nephites. The Lamanite commander replied: “…we will not suffer ourselves to take an oath unto you, which we know that we shall break, and also our children” (Alma 44: 8). This Lamanite knew of the extreme hatred he and his people harbored towards the Nephites, and he was certain that they would sooner or later want to come to war again against the Nephites. He didn’t want to make a promise he knew he wouldn’t keep.

Well, in like manner, how well do you know yourself? Do you have any sins or tendencies towards sin that you wrestle with from week to week? Or, are you perfect? Are you completely capable at this time to “always remember him, and keep his commandments which he has given”…every day, every hour, every moment? You have to ask yourself: Would God want you to make such a promise, knowing you couldn’t keep it? What does it do to us personally when we tell someone we are going to do something, and then we keep failing to do it? How do we start to feel about ourselves? If the first reason for taking the sacrament—or our focus—were about renewing our covenants (part of which we have assumed is the PROMISE to keep His commandments), which, realistically, we know we shall break, I fear, over time we would be less and less inclined to want to take the sacrament. (And there would certainly be many among us who would use this idea of inevitable failure as an excuse to not even try to keep the commandments.) But all these would have missed the express purpose of the sacrament, the purpose of the Savior, the purpose of covenants, and the purpose of mortality! However, if instead, our focus were on Christ and remembering His astounding love for us, which moved Him to offer Himself, and submit to the Father, and be the Father’s Lamb, slain upon the altar, to rescue us from sin, death, hell, and the captivity of the devil…this great love of our Shepherd for us, even though we regularly fail to do all that He commands…this love would have its profound effect upon our hearts, encouraging us from week to week, to KEEP COMING BACK to Him who loves us so! We would be confident that He who commands us to remember Him has not forgotten us. For we are, after all, in a covenant relationship with Him, bound to Him and He to us. He requires us to enter into these covenants, and He is determined, because of these covenants, to do all in His power to change our natures, cleanse us from sin, and bring us home in a better condition than when we left!

To me, the sacrament is not about our ability to keep covenants, or remake promises that we will most likely break week after week. The sacrament is about the honest desires of our hearts. What does your heart really want? What are your feelings about Jesus, at this very moment? The sacrament prayer over the bread says it’s about our willingness…where we manifest outwardly by taking bread into our physical bodies, that we are willing to take Christ into our spiritual bodies, “willing” to take His name upon us, “willing” to always remember Him, and “willing” to do what He has commanded us. He knows we are not yet able to be perfect in all these things. But He is not asking for able. He is asking for willing. According to the words of the prayer, it’s not even about looking back at how we’ve done (even though reviewing and reassessing can always be valuable for us). Rather, the prayer focuses its eye on where our hearts are right now, and the strength of our personal desire to stay with Christ, and not wander from the sheepfold. “…the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind” (D&C 64: 34).

Some have wondered from the last post if I was insinuating that it was selfish of us to think about renewing our covenants before thinking about Christ. No it’s not selfish. But neither is it the best way forward. Let me explain: Jesus wants our worship. Why? Is it because He is a vain Being? No. It’s because He wants us to come to realize that He is the God of our salvation. Only He can save us! We cannot save ourselves. He wants us to come to rely on Him for this. In like manner, if our premier focus for taking the sacrament is on our performance, or our ability to keep our covenants, then we shall hardly make it to heaven. The Savior informs us through His prophets that we must rely on His merits alone! (See Moroni 6: 4; 2 Nephi 31: 19; D&C 3: 20.)

I’ve done a lot of early morning running in my life and sometimes it has been all I could do to just keep running…and not stop and walk. Sometimes I’ve been so exhausted, so low on energy, and my legs have felt so heavy that it seemed to require every bit of mental exertion just to continue. But, I found that even then, if I could change my focus away from my fatigue to something else, if I could begin to think of something I loved, or something I was passionate about, it wasn’t long before I had forgotten the difficulty, and another half a mile had gone by.

In a similar way, as we grip tightly to the iron rod, as we hold fast or fasten ourselves as by the strength of our own arm to the rules and commandments of the Lord, could we be so focused on the fastening, so engrossed in the anchoring, that we forget Him to whom we are anchored? As a branch of the True Vine, could we be so intent on our staying attached, so aware of the tightness of our grip, the straining of our muscles, the bulging of our veins, the trembling effort to hold on, that the real focus of our devotion is on our exertion to staying attached rather than on Him to whom we are attached? He asks us to keep our eyes on Him.

Now, I realize that sometimes it is all we can do to just hold on, and that holding on seems to require every bit of intense, determined gripping possible. But, if we really felt an intense love for our Lord, if we were truly smitten with an overpowering appreciation for Him, and we were confident in our minds and hearts of His love for us, then He becomes the focus of our gaze rather than the rules He has given us to live by.

Remember Him. Eat and drink in remembrance of God’s Son.

I love this Church and the restored gospel with all my heart, but have felt disappointed at times that our focus as a people has been more on our capacity to keep commandments and less on the bounteous grace of our Lord…more on our need to shape up, and less on Him who shapes us into His image…more on the warnings to stay in the sheepfold, and less on the Shepherd who should be reason enough for us to want to stay there, but who passionately pursues each of us as we wander from time to time. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” We are broken and only Christ can repair us. We are fallen, and only Christ can raise us up. We are unclean, and it is only Christ who can give us a new heart.

(to be continued…)

26 Responses to The Sacrament (part 2)

  1. Tammie

    Hello Kenneth :)
    Since the last post I have made an effort to take my thoughts more to what Jesus has done and continues to do for me ( all of us). Part of the sacrament is the atonement and using that gift. I feel many people do not fully understand the atonement just as they don’t fully appreciate and understand the sacrament. The part of the atonement that is so often overlooked or misunderstood is that it covers more than our sorrow for our sins. The atonement covers all sorrows. Recently my family has had broken hearts because of something someone we know has done. This person is sorrowful because of sin. We however did not sin but are sorrowful because of our love for this person. The atonement provides peace and comfort to all of us. So, while taking the sacrament I have the opportunity to say “thank you” to my loving brother for taking my friend’s suffering pains away if this person does his part, but my broken heart can also feel peace and comfort and I can continue to love this person as I have for years.
    Thank you for more food for thought.

    • Stephanie B

      The misunderstandings we have today tie into members and leaders not being familiar enough with the scriptures.
      It saddens me that we rely more on handbooks and manuels in our attempt to teach and understand the word of God than we do personnel revelation.
      We cannot mingle the doctrines of men with the teachings of Christ. Only He can save.

      • I believe that people are really trying, Stephanie, to do their best. Yes, we can get lost in cultural norms, etc., but thankfully Jesus is patient with ALL of us, and we are ALL dependent on Him being that way. We have a glorious Savior! :)

    • This is just beautiful, Tammie! A witness grown from experience. You KNOW that Jesus is helping you. It’s not just theory. Thanks for sharing your enlightening and inspiring words!
      Love you! :)

  2. Scott Card

    Kenneth, my dear friend, I thank you for your insightful blog. I, too, have been pondering and studying this topic for the past month. I feel as you do. As I continue to study this topic I feel that I have been approaching the sacrament each Sunday with a teaspoon to receive what the Lord has to offer me. I have come to the conclusion that the Savior has always been there to offer me a 50 gallon drum full of strength, hope, power, perspective, humility, love, resolve, courage, etc. You have rightly pointed out a limiting and widely held concept in the church. I would love to have an in depth discussion with you about this topic to learn more from you, and also to catch up. It has been too long! In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy your posts. Keep it up!

    • Hi Scott!!!! So great to hear from you. I’m sure you have approached the sacrament with a much larger vessel than you acknowledge. But certainly, God is generous. He does not deal in scarcity…but in bounty! You know this.
      And I would love to get with you someday in the near future. You and Natalie have been dear friends since all those days ago in Glendale. We should plan another get together!
      Are you still bishop?

  3. A long time ago, a near friend of mine told me of his experience. He was trying to learn what was needed to have the Lord’s spirit with him more often in his daily life. He fasted and prayed and prayed and fasted. Regularly, he had an hour commute on the bus. During one bus ride as he was fasting and pondering about how to have the Lord’s spirit more in his life, he had an odd experience. My friend shared with me that he saw, in his mind’s eye, an eye. Regarding him. As he saw, he heard the words, “Remember me.” He told me how powerfully those two words were stated. He also shared how he studied and pondered those words, coming to conclusions very similar to the thoughts related in these posts.
    One of the other teachings he took from his odd experience was the idea that the Sacrament is a formal opportunity to come before the Lord in worship, remembrance and repentance. My friend has found that when he desires the companionship of the Lord’s spirit, he doesn’t need to wait for an opportunity to partake of the Sacrament. Instead, he remembers the Savior and His atonement. Many times, he has repenting to do as he remembers. But always, when he remembers, he experiences an increase in the Spirit.
    These ideas have brought similar results in my life.
    Thank you for your posts, Kenneth. I appreciate your testimony.

    • So WONDERFUL, Stephen! I am very grateful that you shared this. Not just the words, but as your friend recounted, “how powerfully those two words were stated.” I wonder if we find it difficult to believe that there would be an ordinance whose primary purpose was to REMEMBER? I know that the Passover was instituted as an ordinance of remembering. And, of course it pointed towards the supreme ordinance of atonement, the great and last sacrifice. But remembering was a huge part of why the Israelites celebrated it every year. When I remember Jesus’ love for me, I am definitely in a better place than I am when I forget. I have more hope, and less shame.
      Thanks again for sharing this!

  4. Lisa Harper

    Thank you. :)

  5. Helen Wells

    My Dear Kenneth, Your depth of understanding about the Sacrament and our relationship to the Savior is so far above many of us, including myself, that I marvel at your understanding and testimony of the true purpose of the Sacrament, and its focus. Of course, we need to renew and remember our covenants, but when we first remember the complete love and extent of that love of our Savior, that He was willing to perform the great Atonement for all mankind, then our resolve to be ever more willing to repent and remember our promises and do what we need to do to retain a forgiveness will increase.
    There will always be those who will question; but if they go to the Source and inquire of the Lord about any doubts, with meekness (teachableness) and an open heart and mind, those questions will be answered.
    I thrill at your desire to write on such an important subject, and I congratulate you for your willingness to share. THANK YOU, DEAR FRIEND!

    • Paul Pulsipher

      Helen, I know exactly where you are coming from. My wife and I have had some pretty incredible spiritual experiences in our home and we both wish more people could see the sacrament the way Kenneth does. I am glad to see comments like yours on here and hope more people follow suit in their attitudes. You might like this – http://plpulsipher.blogspot.com – and this – https://www.facebook.com/groups/ldsqna/

    • Oh, dear Helen! You and Bob mean the world to me. Do you know that? I consider you both a treasure in my little heart of glorious things I love.
      You are more than kind and generous with your words here. But, I do love Jesus, and I have tried to find Him through all the maze of this world. I don’t know why I feel to talk about Him so much. Most likely, due to the fact that I know my weakness and fallen nature better than anyone else alive, and I have learned by sad experience that I cannot make myself into His image. I cannot be as good as I want to be…as “Christlike” as my spiritual heart craves. He is my only hope for moving forward and upward. I need Him and that hope every day of my life. Perhaps it is all this inescapable brokenness that has caused me to seek Him all these years, as well as an intense desire to understand the principles of our Father’s glorious (though often painful) plan. You and Bob have been lights to me on my journey, and I will love you both forever for this! Thanks for reaching out to me with your gentle love!

  6. great follow-up Kenneth.
    Is there a place or a way to see those training videos ? That’d be great !

    • Hi pierrick! :)
      The two short videos were being reviewed among our stake leadership, as well as bishoprics. My wife is currently serving in the stake Relief Society presidency, so she was asked to watch them and then pass them on. I bet if you contacted your ward leadership, they would know how you could get a hold of them.
      I hope that helps. :)

  7. Bud

    My first experience with your powerful testimony and tender insight was on a beautiful mountain setting as your songs and spoken words taught of the Prophet Joseph to a group of young Trekers. Since that time, I have been Both inspired and amazed by how Christlike you are and how closely you live the gospel principles that too many of us too often take for granted. Your wisdom, passion, understanding, example, and friendship have been a great blessing to me and my family. Thank you! I look forward to your further teachings on our relationship with the Lord.

    • Wow, Bud! This is SO kind of you. Thanks for taking the time and reaching out to me like this.
      I do rejoice in a Father and Savior who, in such a surprising way, choose to use us…the weak things of the earth…to do any kind of good in the lives of others around us.
      You brought back some sweet memories…I LOVED being in that mountain setting all those years ago, coming into camp when those trekkers were so dusty and sweaty and tired. Yet, I had just arrived, and was clean and refreshed, ready to open my mouth for God. The sun was close to touching the mountains, and we all gathered in that grassy opening. It was a beautiful night!
      Thanks for taking me down memory lane. :)
      All my love to you, Bud! Thanks for loving me!!!

    • I have to work most Sundays and can’t go to church. But I still make Sunday a day of worsihp. I listen to hymns on the drive to and from work, I read the scriptures during my break and lunch.I pray that my family will go to church and feel the spirit. I miss taking the sacrament, but I still continue to be blessed by this holy day. Thank you for your post, I truly hope everyone can have the peace the sabbath can bring.

      • Bless you, Andros, for making the Sabbath a delight, even when your circumstances keep you from worshipping at church. God knows your efforts and smiles upon your devotion. Perhaps your bishop will allow you to have the sacrament at home, after you get off work. You could always ask him. :)

  8. Debora Louks

    Kenneth,

    I believe you are ‘spot on’ with how we should remember Him. I have known you for a long time now and I can honestly say that Christ has always been at your core. It motivates everything you do. You ‘walk the talk’. Your point of view on the sacrament is a healthy reminder for all of us. I know it was for me. I am trying to teach my grandchildren to think about Jesus and how we need Him in our lives.

    I know I cannot get through each day without Him. I try to always keep a prayer in my heart. I want my grandchildren to know how much I rely upon Him for ALL I have.

    There are times I just offer a prayer of gratitude for Heavenly Father and Jesus. Those are usually the times where I feel the closest to Him. I am filled with so much joy and peace! Unfortunately I don’t do that often enough. I will make it a point at sometime during my day I will take a few moments of time to just REMEMBER him. It is so easy to get caught up in the drama of the day and not think of Him. I feel that times I get so caught up in things I ‘need’ to pray about and not thank Them more.

    I love your soul, my friend! I KNOW where your heart and soul are and to Whom you are devoted to. I can’t wait until your next installment!

    Love ya! Deb

    • Thanks for sharing your lovely thoughts and testimony of the Savior, Debora! You have a beautiful soul. May you feel Christ and our Father tangibly with you as you continue to face what you are facing! Love to you! :)

  9. Marie Young

    Change of heart! Yes, that is what I yearn for. Only He can do it~ I must apply and obey what the Holy ghost teaches me, but somewhere in it He will have to even things up. It will be a long while before I am as He is in my heart. If He knows what I desire then He will bless me with it. Thank you for your music and the touching beautiful words. Only a soul with Christ-like attributes could compose as you do.

    • Agreed, Marie!!! Only He can bring about this mighty change in us. We may be able (through the strength of man he has afforded us) to change some things about our behavior, but only Christ can change our nature, and turn the natural man and woman into a man and woman of holiness.
      AND…He gives us the righteous desires that dwell in our hearts…He is leading us through these given desires to come to a place where we can receive something more that He wants to give to us…the realization of those desires! Keep trusting Him, Marie! :)

  10. Aaron Ellsworth

    Kenneth,
    I have just found your blog and had to add my thoughts.
    I teach the 5 and 6 year olds at church and during a lesson about the sacrament, we of course talked about renewing covenants, and yet I was personally confused, because these beautiful innocent children have not been baptized yet, but they take the sacrament every week. Clearly the purpose for them can’t be to renew a covenant they have not yet made, and clearly they should be taking the sacrament. How could we forbid them until they get baptized? That makes no sense. But they, just like all of us, can express a willingness to remember Jesus Christ and the gift of the atonement He gave to all of us. So thank you for such powerful insights!

    • Thank you for your insightful experience, Aaron. What a blessing to be teaching those children about our Savior. May you feel inspired and strengthened in your own great conviction to teach about Jesus and help them feel His love and passionate commitment to them!
      Bless you, brother! :)

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