This is the 4th post in a series about the LDS ordinance of the Sacrament. You can find the list and links to all of the articles in the series here.
In the last article, I discussed the white cloth used to cover the bread and water sitting atop the sacrament table. Just as the emblems of Christ’s atoning sacrifice remain covered – completely hidden – beneath the cloth until the moment they are blessed and passed to us, so Christ’s mercy and grace is hidden from us until the very moment we need them. Not the moment we think we need His help. Rather, the very moment He knows we need it.
I love that symbolism, but there is more to the sacrament cloth than that.
On the Sunday morning of Christ’s resurrection, the apostles Peter and John ran to the tomb after hearing Mary’s witness. When Peter entered the empty chamber he found the linen clothes used to wrap Jesus’ body, apparently simply left where they were when Jesus rose.
Not long ago, if you’d asked me about the state of those linen clothes, I would have said they were folded neatly. But they weren’t – at least the Bible doesn’t say they were. In fact, only one part of the linen clothes had been folded and carefully placed:
“And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.” (John 20:7, emphasis added)
I find it really interesting that it was only the cloths covering the Saviour’s head that had been folded neatly. He was happy to leave the fabric covering His body where it was, but took especial care with those that had covered His head. There must be a reason for that. And the fact that the apostle John specifically references this is unlikely to be accidental. What was so special about the head cloths?
What should we learn from it? In pointing out the exceptional status of the cloths that had been covering the Saviour’s head, John points my mind to the covering of heads with cloth more generally. And in this my thoughts turn to the wearing of a veil.
Now, you might suddenly be thinking this is all going a bit weird because only women wore veils anciently and what does all of this have to do with the sacrament anyway. But please bear with me.
When Moses came down from the mount carrying the stone tables, his face was shining following his extended meeting with the Lord. The people were afraid, so what did he do? “And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.” (Exodus 34:33)
Hmm. Moses is wearing a veil. Maybe that teaches us something about veils and what they represent.
Here we have the prophet Moses, representing God, needing to veil his face because of the glory shining from him. The Lord’s people couldn’t bear His glory, and so a veil needed to be used. This is a fantastic representation of our own standing before the Lord. How much can we bear to know? God will only show us as much as we can stand. The rest will be hidden – veiled – until we grow more spiritually.
Later, a veil is used in the tabernacle (and later temple) to cover the Holy of Holies in which lay the ark of the covenant. The use of veils continues today in LDS temples.
Veils of faces. Veils of holy places. They can be penetrated just as Moses climbed into the covered mount to talk with God. (Exodus 24:15) Or they can be lifted, to reveal the power contained therein. Think about that next time you attend a wedding and the bride lifts her veil. (To read more about veils and what they represent, go to the excellent blog post of a few years ago, The Spiritual Symbolism of Veils, by Heather Farrell.)
The Lord Himself talks about unveiling his face, “Behold, it is my will, that all they who call on my name, and worship me according to mine everlasting gospel, should gather together, and stand in holy places; and prepare for the revelation which is to come, when the veil or the covering of my temple, in my tabernacle, which hideth the earth, shall be taken off, and all flesh shall see me together.” (D&C 101:22-23)
The day will come when “all flesh shall see”, but until then a veil will continue to hide Him from the world in general. In a great foreshadowing of that event, the Book of Mormon tells of three days when “darkness [covered] the face of the whole earth”. This covering of darkness was removed as Christ rose from the dead in Jerusalem, and He later appeared among them, the veil for them rent. (see Helaman 14:27, 3 Nephi 8-11).
And that, I believe, is what happened when Christ neatly placed the cloths that had covered his head in the tomb. He had previously been completely hidden by the linen clothes – just as the sacrament is completely hidden under the white cloth. That He was now uncovered, more specifically that his face was now unveiled, was a matter of deep import as the neatly folded napkins show.
And just as the bread and water are in turn revealed to a Sunday congregation today when the pressed sacrament cloth is lifted, so too His face had been unveiled when He rose from the dead – the glorious results the Atonement revealed. His triumph was complete. His glory assured. The power of His atoning sacrifice everlastingly sure. Thus we can look to Him, the tokens in His hands and feet reminders of His sacrifice and victory. In Jerusalem, the Americas, and probably elsewhere, thousands saw Him in His glory, the veil cast aside.
As I discussed in the last post, the sacrament cloth – the covering of the Saviour’s tokens of bread and water – hides the very emblems of His grace until the moment they are needed. Until He decides we need them. In the ordinance of the sacrament, that moment is when the Priests are about to offer the prayers. In our daily lives, it can be at any time, in any circumstance. If we seek Him in our hour of need, He will come.
The “pressed” cloth covering the sacrament thus reminds me of the neatly folded napkins that had covered the Saviour in the tomb, removed from his head only when the Atonement was complete, death’s bands broken, His victory over death and hell unveiled just as the bread and water are unveiled in the sacrament.
And as the covering of His atoning emblems are removed for us in the ordinance of the sacrament, a beautiful covering can come upon us: we can be covered by His grace.
“Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin.” (Psalms 85:2)
“I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.” (Isaiah 51:16)
It’s such a simple thing, a cloth. White, clean, non-transparent, and pressed. Uncovering first bread, and then water. Yet it carries such meaning with it. The Lord’s timing (our Fourth Watch), our faith, coverings and veils, the Saviour’s power, redemption from death and sin, our becoming His people. First hidden, then revealed to those who believe on Him.
Simple, yet beautiful.
In the next post, I’ll talk about the role of the Priests in the sacrament, and what they teach me.
© Copyright 2017, Jeffrey Collyer