This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a good long while, probably about 2 years. Originally, I was going to write it as we approached a General Conference of the Church – and I might still do that sometime – but for this article (and the next couple) I’m going to focus on the sacrament.
For those who have been following, this is the 11th article in my series on the sacrament of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was going to discuss taking the name of Christ a bit later in the series, but the phrase is referenced in both of the sacrament prayers – twice in the first – and it’s worth thinking about throughout the ordinance.
Let’s look at the prayers again, this time focusing on where the name of Christ is referenced. First the prayer on the bread.
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen. (D&C 20:77, emphasis added)
And next the prayer on the water:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ,to bless and sanctify this [water] to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen. (D&C 20:79, emphasis added)
I’ve always been interested in the differences between the two prayers – why one prayer says something the other either changes or omits altogether. Focusing on the highlighted text, the similarity here is clearly that both prayers ask for blessings in the name of Jesus Christ, using the exact same wording. (We’ll talk more about that a bit later in another post.)
The difference is just as obvious, of course. In the prayer on the bread, we are asked to witness that we are willing to take upon us His name. While in the prayer on the water that phrase is excluded. Also worth highlighting is that in the prayer on the bread, we are not asked to take upon ourselves His name. Rather, we witness that we are willing to do so. On this, Elder Dallin H Oaks has said:
“It is significant that when we partake of the sacrament we do not witness that we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We witness that we are willing to do so. The fact that we only witness to our willingness suggests that something else must happen before we actually take that sacred name upon us in the most important sense.” (Taking Upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ, April 1985 General Conference)
I’m not going to talk much about what it means to be willing to take upon ourselves the name of Christ. Elder Oaks says it much better than I ever could, and I’d encourage you to read his talk in its entirety.
The one thing I do want to point out, though, is that this wording is the same as that used in the list of requirements for baptism:
“All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.” (D&C 20:37, emphasis added)
In talking about our willingness to take His name, and after referencing this scripture, Elder Oaks says, “When we partake of the sacrament, we renew this covenant and all the other covenants we made in the waters of baptism.” (ibid)
So if we’re renewing our baptismal covenants during the sacrament, let’s think about that for a moment.
It’s interesting, I think, that when we’re approaching baptism we anticipate the day with a combination of anxiety and excitement. It’s a moment we think about often, and something we actively prepare for, whether we’re 8 years old or 80. Yet when we renew those exact same covenants in the sacrament we can often do so with little or no preparation, having given it no thought.
Can you imagine someone standing in the baptismal waters texting on their phone while the Priest says the words of the ordinance? No, me either.
It can be really tough, even impossible, for a young family with small children to think about much during the sacrament other than trying to keep the little ones relatively quiet. I can tell you from experience, that’s really, really hard work! But that doesn’t have to stop us from thinking about it before our Sunday services. Maybe we can ponder the sacrament as we kneel to pray on Saturday night, asking the Lord to accept our offering in church the next day – however fraught that might be. In fact, maybe all of us could do that anyway.
Remember, the very covenant speaks of our willingness. We can be totally willing – even anxious – to do something without always being able to do it. The Lord accepts our willingness when that is the best we can offer.
There may be other things that prevent your ability to ponder the sacrament while partaking of it. For me, although my children are a bit older now, my pain levels fluctuate. And if they’re pretty bad during the sacrament, I might have to spend most of my mental energy focused on trying to keep a lid on that. Sometimes swallowing is a bit of a challenge, and I have to concentrate on actually getting the bread down my throat. But none of that affects my willingness. And when my pain isn’t too bad, I can really think about what I’m doing as I take the small piece of bread and the cup of water.
That will be all the sweeter for me if I have pondered the ordinance beforehand; if I have prepared.
But that similarity in wording between the sacrament and baptism occurs only in the first prayer, on the bread. It’s absent from the prayer on the water. One implication here could be that while partaking of the bread of the sacrament renews our baptismal covenants, the sacramental water is for something else.
The ancient prophet Nephi teaches us that baptism is the gate (2 Nephi 31:9). It’s the entrance to the strait and narrow path we need to take. It’s the start of our journey not the end.
“And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ (faith), having a perfect brightness of hope (hope), and a love of God and of all men (charity). Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.” (2 Nephi 31:19-21, emphasis added)
Could partaking of the sacramental bread really just represent the very start of our covenantal journey: the water something else? If the bread of the sacrament renews our covenant to enter the gate, surely the water must represent something that happens afterwards. Nephi speaks of our need to develop faith, hope, and charity on the path.
And that will be the subject of the next post.
© Copyright Jeffrey Collyer, 2019
December 24, 2019 at 2:46 pm
You have great thoughts. Here’s something from Elder Anderson:
“The title ‘renewing our baptismal covenants’ is not found in the scriptures. It is not inappropriate. Many of you have used it in talks. 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.”
Reference: (14:24 minute marker) Elder Anderson Sabbath Day Training: https://youtu.be/N68p8p–k04
It gives something to ponder. They are very similar to baptismal covenants to be sure.