All Things Witness

Thoughts on the mission and power of Jesus Christ

Our Modern Altars

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I’ve written about the Sacrament on a couple of occasions before. The last time more than 18 months ago, and in it I promised my next posts would be looking at this wonderful ordinance in more detail. Ahem… well, a lot has happened during those 18 months. Sorry for the delay.

And as I sat in my Church meetings today and listened once again to the words of the Sacrament, I felt I needed to continue on from that post so long ago.

For us in the LDS faith, the Sacrament consists of the communal sharing of broken bread and cups of water, and is directly derived from the Last Supper. In other faiths it may be called the Eucharist or Communion. They all share similarities. Thus, although I am focussing my discussion on the LDS sacramental rites, many aspects may hold meaning for other faiths too.

The New Testament account of the Lord’s Last Supper in the Gospel of Matthew is short:

“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28)

We’ll look more closely at these words in a later post. But for the moment it is worth reminding ourselves that this was the last act Jesus took with his chosen Disciples before He went to Gethsemane. It was the culmination of His teachings to them.

Similarly in the Book of Mormon, the introduction of these reminders of bread and wine came at the culmination of a day full of teaching, and healing, and love. It was the ultimate way in which His followers could, “…always have [His] Spirit to be with [them].” (3 Nephi 18:11, emphasis added)

For His Disciples in ancient Israel, He would soon die. For His followers in the ancient Americas, He would leave. But that didn’t matter, because He left a way for us all to always have His Spirit with us.

When pondering this beautiful ordinance, I like to consider each element. The bread and water is placed in trays upon a table, a white cloth overlaying it. The Priests uncover the bread, break it, and then kneel to say the Sacrament prayers. The trays are passed using the right hand. This process is then repeated for the water, served in tiny cups.

As I was growing up I always considered the Sacrament table just that  – a table. A convenient place upon which could be placed trays. It’s practical, functional.

But of course it is so much more than that. Because it is also an altar.

From our very first parents, altars have been necessary in man’s worship of God:

“And [the Lord] gave unto them (Adam and Eve) commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandment of the Lord.” (Moses 4:5)

And this commandment was passed down to Adam and Eve’s righteous posterity. What was the first thing Noah did after disembarking from the ark?

“And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord, and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” (Genesis 8:20)

The practice of offering sacrifices upon altars was continued and then expanded under the Law of Moses, a law specifically designed to, “point our souls to [Christ]” (Jacob 4:5).

Standing tall amongst these newly prescribed practices was the Feast of the Passover, in which lambs were sacrificed upon altars in both memory of their deliverance from Egypt, but more importantly to remind all of the future sacrifice of He who would save us all from our own spiritual Egypts. Indeed, it is possible Jesus Christ died upon the cross at the very time the lambs were being slain on the Temple’s altar.

His was an altar of wood in the form of a cross, raised tall that all might see the King of the Jews. Indeed, the King of Kings. But also the humble “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Willingly sacrificing Himself so that we might be free: of sin and death, yes; but also of pain and suffering and sickness and guilt and shame.

And so it is today that the emblems of His great sacrifice – broken bread and small cups of water – are placed atop our own altar of wood. No, it is not just a convenient flat surface upon which to place the Sacrament trays; it is an altar.

And as the Priests kneel at the Sacrament altar to bless the tokens of Christ’s sacrifice, we are reminded of other places we kneel at altars, of sacrifices we are called to make. Christ came to earth not take but to give. We can never give as much as He, but as we seek to emulate Him we too recognise our own need to offer our own desires, our talents, indeed everything the Lord has given us, as we symbolically kneel at His altar.

All of this is why I love the simple and plain Sacrament table in our Church buildings. They are our modern altars, and for me a beautiful way to commence my ponderings on this sacred ordinance.

Go to part 3 =>

© Copyright 2017, Jeffrey Collyer

Author: JeffC

I'm a 50-something bloke who lives in the northern hills of England. I write fiction (mostly fantasy), blog about religion and work in book publishing after a career in healthcare.

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