(Continued from last week…)
Just a few final thoughts…
In the ancient land Bountiful, after appearing to two thousand and five hundred souls, consisting of men, women, and children, why did the resurrected Jesus give the sacrament FIRST to His newly called twelve Nephite disciples, before distributing it to the rest of the multitude? Was Jesus showing His chosen leaders some preferential treatment? No, that doesn’t sound like the Jesus we know.
It is customary in our sacrament meeting for the bishop, stake president, or other presiding authority to receive the sacrament first. Why is this? Is it because they are the greatest of all in the room, and therefore should get to have it first and be honored in front of everyone else while all are watching and waiting for their turn? No, this does not make gospel sense to me. Think of Jesus and what He taught His apostles in the Holy Land: “…he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, [let him be] as he that doth serve” (Luke 22: 26). And “whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister…Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20: 26-28).
It makes spiritual sense to me that Jesus gave the sacrament to His Nephite disciples first so they could be examples to the multitude, even as Jesus was an example to them. The Lord wanted His ordained disciples to partake of the emblems and be “filled” so they would be EAGER to take and share these sacred emblems with the rest of the Lord’s people, that they might also be “filled” (3 Nephi 18: 3-5, 8-9). And so it would seem to be the same in our day: The presiding authority is to lead out in this sacramental worship…to be filled with the Spirit, and by his visible example, encourage others to partake and also be filled. It makes more sense to me that this is not a custom of honoring a man, but one of having that man—who is called of God and appointed as the presiding priesthood authority—to meekly and sincerely demonstrate to the congregation his humility, his determined discipleship before the Lord, and the importance of this ordinance. I’ve even thought…if there was enough time, it wouldn’t be surprising to me to see the Lord inspire the presiding authority to, by himself, minister the sacred emblems to everyone present, one by one, just as He had his twelve disciples do in the land Bountiful all those years ago. But now, the quorum of twelve deacons has been given this high calling from the Lord.
Back to Bountiful…
The following day, after repeating the sacramental ordinance, Jesus said: “He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled. Now, when the multitude had all eaten and drunk, behold they were filled with the Spirit; and they did cry out with one voice, and gave glory to Jesus, whom they both saw and heard” (3 Nephi 20: 8-9).
What does it mean to eat of His body, and drink of His blood to our souls?
Is it possible to partake of the emblems of the sacrament without that happening to us?
You’ll remember when Jesus taught His “bread of life” sermon in the synagogue at Capernaum, He told the Jews “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6: 53). The Jews struggled with this saying, asking how could Jesus give them His flesh to eat? Finally Jesus told them: “It is the spirit that quickeneth [or that gives life]; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (verse 63).
So, how do we, today, eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood? Remember, Jesus wasn’t speaking of physical things, but of spiritual things. Therefore, even the bread and wine (water) are not the full answer here…these emblems are only symbolic of something deeper, something Christ was trying to teach the Jews, and is now trying to teach us. For how many times have any of us partaken of the sacrament and have NOT been filled with His Spirit? And yet He promises that if we eat of His body and drink of His blood to our souls, we shall “never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled.”
Could the answer at least in part be that we eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood by taking or absorbing Him and what He did for us into our souls—or spiritual lives? And this is done through worship: remembering, pondering, singing, praying, thanking, praising! And is not the sacrament an ordinance designed to assist us in this?
The prophet Alma told his sons that he had always retained in remembrance the captivity of his fathers as well as his own captivity, and he exhorted them to do the same. There is particular power in keeping certain things in remembrance.
To remember our bondage from which only Christ could deliver us! What might this remembering do for the soul who has been delivered?
And is not remembering Jesus: His bruised, broken, torn, pierced, and dying body which He gave up for us; as well as His blood, which was shed for us—His bright red blood which oozed out of Him in Gethsemane, and again when he was struck in the face by his captors, and again at the scourging post, and again from the crown of thorns, and again while being nailed to the cross upon which he hung for six hours—is not all of this the key reason for the sacrament? And when we take it, do we not give witness in a public way that we do remember, and we do believe in what the Lord has done for us? He has commanded us to take Him into our souls. And ONLY if we do this, is the promise which He gives us fulfilled, to never hunger or thirst, but be filled with His Spirit!
…in remembrance of the body of Thy Son…in remembrance of the blood of Thy Son…
In closing, I’d like to reflect on two other disciples who saw and touched Jesus’ atoning body in a more pronounced way. I’m thinking of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, at the tomb, as they lovingly cleaned away the excess of blood (much of it beginning to dry) from off our Lord’s face, cold skin, and bodily wounds. I think of them tenderly wrapping the Savior’s lifeless body in clean new linen, and placing spices in the folds to perfume His body, according to the custom of the Jews for burial. I wonder how much happened in that garden tomb on that afternoon—things upon which the scriptures are silent? Did Joseph and Nicodemus sing a special hymn of mourning? Did they recite some verses out of the Torah? Perhaps they knelt by the corpse and said a solemn prayer, and even shed some tears. We know that the hearts of these two men had been won by Jesus’ love. It is very possible that preparing a body for burial was somewhat of a new experience for them. They were, after all, rulers of the Jews, and were to be examples to the people of strict adherence to the Mosaic Law, readily on hand for the holy feasts, daily prayers, and sacrifices. And yet, the law of Moses strictly pronounced ceremonial uncleanness for anyone who might come in contact with a dead body. It was the eve of the Passover when Jesus died. And, the law of Moses declared that if someone were to touch a corpse within the week that led up to Passover, they were forbidden to participate with the rest of Israel in keeping the Passover at that time. However, they were warned that they must not miss keeping the Passover altogether. The word of the Lord specifically stated that those who were ceremonially unclean at the time of Passover were to keep it exactly one month later. (Numbers 9: 1-13) I wonder if Nicodemus and Joseph, exactly one month after they carried, cleaned, wrapped up, and entombed the body of their beloved Master, if they sat down together and ate the Passover meal! What would have been their reflections of that emotionally charged day four weeks earlier? And how much longer, before they, themselves, were fearless enough to be public disciples of the Master, and assembling with the Saints on the first day of every week, partaking of the sacrament? If they were baptized into the Church of Christ, think of it…every time they partook of the bread and wine, what did it mean to THEM? And what if they ever actually officiated as two priests at the sacrament table? Breaking the bread…and holding up the rich-colored wine…after all, these two had been the caretakers of Christ’s body and blood at the end!
Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus! THEY would remember. How could they forget!
But, what about you and me? What can we do to remember?
I testify that “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4: 19).
And…if we think about it…we remember Him, because He first remembered us!
We are the reason He did what He did!
May we make the continual effort to always remember Him, and in so doing, have His empowering, life-changing Spirit to be with us…just as He promised!