In my last post, I talked about sadness – and my own lack thereof – and how it is a necessary part of our life, ultimately allowing us to receive a greater happiness.
I thought at the time that it was a distinct topic from my series on the sacrament (you can read the posts in that series here). But as I sat in church today listening to the sacrament prayers, I realised that wasn’t the case. Obviously, all gospel topics are inter-related in some ways, but this was more so than I had imagined.
To bless and sanctify. Bread and Water. Emblems of His death and suffering. To our souls. Hmm.
Be Ye Perfect
In our Sunday sermons and talks we like to quote Jesus as He spoke to the multitudes on the mount, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:48)
We compare this with the resurrected Christ’s words to the Nephites, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” (3 Nephi 12:48, emphasis added)
Why could the Saviour call Himself perfect to the Nephites, but not to the crowds on the mount in Jerusalem? Well, He was now resurrected, of course. His physical body had become eternal and perfected like His Father’s.
But I think there’s more to it than that. I don’t think that sinlessness + resurrected body = perfection. At least not for most of us.* If it were that simple, I just don’t believe God would put us through long lives of disease, illness, and other pains. There has to be more to it than that.
And when we turn to the book of Hebrews we find something interesting. Something I hadn’t noticed until recently.
Here we have the writer of that book saying that Christ – the “captain of [our] salvation” – was made “perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10, emphasis added).
Stop and think about that. If this idea hasn’t occurred to you before, go and read Hebrews 2:8-10. Stop and ponder those verses, because the implications are profound.
Yes, sinlessness is necessary for our own eternal salvation: “…no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21). It is through Christ we can be made clean. And Jesus certainly lived a sinless life; He is the only person who ever has.
A resurrected, glorified body is also necessary for us to become like our Father in Heaven, for He, “has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.” (D&C 130:22)
But those two things, alone, aren’t what perfected Jesus Christ. He was made perfect through the things He suffered.
A Man of Sorrows
As I was pondering this, my mind wandered to one of my favourite chapters in all of scripture, Isaiah 53. There, the prophet describes the future Messiah as one who would be, “… a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…” (Isaiah 53:3)
And that made me think about what we are told of Jesus’s mortal life. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe Jesus was a positive and naturally happy man. I think he was a very uplifting person to be around, and I’m sure he smiled plenty.
But that’s not what we’re told about in the scriptures. In the scriptures we see Him blessing, consoling, and comforting those afflicted. We see a man who has no place to lay his head. We see Him weeping with those who wept, and crying over the wickedness of those in the holy city. As Isaiah described, we see a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.
And in Gethsemane and again on the cross, we see a Man who bears the crushing weight of all of eternity crashing down upon Him.
In Christ, we see a Man who knew more sorrow, more grief, more despair, more hopelessness, more pain – in short more suffering – than any other person in history. Yes, He was – and is – very, very acquainted with grief.
He was made perfect by His suffering.
What does this mean for me?
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that if even He had to experience suffering to be made perfect, then I have no cause to expect an exemption. This isn’t to say we should seek suffering – far from it. Remember Nephi’s people who “lived after the manner of happiness” (2 Nephi 5:27), even if they too were familiar with sorrows.
But it is to say that the things I suffer have an ultimate purpose. Remember what the Lord told the prophet Joseph, “…if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7, emphasis added)
It’s hard to see these truths when my feet are hurting so much I can’t stand; or the pain in my legs keeps me awake at night; or I haven’t been able to eat anything solid in two months because my jaw won’t shut; or I get a diagnosis of cancer; or my despair is so deep and so black that no light can penetrate. It’s hard to stand by and watch loved ones suffer, to feel helpless to do anything to alleviate their pain. Physical, emotional, spiritual pain – it’s always hard to see beyond these at the moment of greatest suffering.
Indeed, when the very jaws of hell are gaping open the mouth wide after me, it’s just not possible to think, “It’s okay because this is all for my good.” At least, not for me.
Your trials will be different to mine. Maybe you have severe physical suffering, or relationship problems, or financial worries, or work stresses, or all of these and more. And my guess is that in the midst of these challenges you also find it near impossible to think you’ll come out the other side of them better for it.
But when I look back on some of the challenges I’ve lived through – the deepest, darkest times that I’ve somehow survived – yes, I can feel they have had a sanctifying effect on me. I am a better person because of them. I have a deeper understanding of and greater love for my Father in Heaven.
And, of course, it is through Christ’s grace that I am able to do so.
And if I can be blessed and even sanctified through my difficulties, so can you.
To Bless and Sanctify
Which brings me back to the sacrament.
Broken bread. Yes, it represents our Saviour’s body: broken for us, but now whole, resurrected, and glorified. Just as these small pieces of bread are blessed and sanctified to our souls, so it is that because of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, we too can be sanctified. Indeed, Christ Himself instructed that we should partake of these emblems “… in remembrance of [His] body…” (3 Nephi 18:7)
But in part surely it represents also our own lives: broken, wounded, at times feeling alone, hopeless, in tears – or perhaps even beyond such feelings. Don’t these broken pieces of bread remind us of the griefs in our own life that He bore for us, for our sorrows that He carried (see Isaiah 53:4)?
Doesn’t the water, representing the blood He shed for us – every pore of His body squeezed by the weight of all man’s suffering – also remind me of times in my own life when tears, despair, or hopelessness have felt like weights too crushing to survive?
It is because of Him that I am still here. It is because of Him that relief has finally been found.
And as I look at the small piece of bread in my hand on a Sunday morning in church, I am reminded not just of His broken body, and not only of the broken parts of my life He has healed, but also of parts of my life that remain broken. Of the valleys of sorrow through which I still must pass. And I know that He suffered all things so that His grace can carry me still, that it is because of His mercy that I will be able to pass through the difficulties I face both now and in the future. And, yes, that because of these experiences and His love my soul can be further sanctified.
I am so grateful He lives, that He bore my griefs and carried my sorrows, that He has carried me through difficult times in my life.
To bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it.
I don’t think I’ll ever hear those words the same again.
© Copyright 2017, Jeffrey Collyer
* I’m not talking about babies who die shortly before or after birth, or even young children here. There is so much we don’t understand on that topic. I simply take at face value the words of Mormon, who said, “little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world…” (Moroni 8:12)