The Sacrament and the Sabbath (in two parts)

[These two talks were both given by Chris Juchau in the same Sacrament Meeting to three wards in September 2016]

[Part 1]

Brothers and Sisters,

This is going to be a little bit unusual, but I would like to take a few minutes to speak to you before the Sacrament is administered today.

I had a missionary companion once who was an excellent teacher.  One of the things he would do is invite the people he was teaching to imagine things with him.  He would say, for example, “Imagine with me for a moment that God really is our Father and that He cares about each of us as His children, including you.  Imagine that He is interested in your successes as well as in your concerns and questions and frustrations.  And imagine that He cares about the outcomes in your life.”  And then he would ask a question like this, “If you imagine God like that, can you also imagine that when you pray to Him, He listens—and not only listens, but will sometimes respond to the things you are talking to Him and asking Him about?”

It was an effective teaching method because it helped people think differently about things in a way they were willing to do.  This morning I would like to ask you to imagine something with me.

Imagine for a moment that you truly and very deeply love the Savior.  (Hopefully that is not something that is difficult to imagine.)  Imagine also that you don’t just love Him, but that you believe—truly believe—the Gospel—that is, 1) that He took upon Himself unimaginable suffering so that the debt we owe to Justice for the sins we’ve committed would, instead, be owed to Him, and 2) that He is willing to forgive those debts if we will remember Him and do our very best to keep His commandments, including His commandment to love one another.

Imagine that because you believe in the reality of His suffering and that His suffering was very personal (meaning that it was not just for everyone—though it certainly was for everyone—but it was also specifically for you because of your—and my—moments of foolishness and weakness and rebellion)… Because you believe that His suffering was personal and that His love for you is equally personal, you are also filled with tremendous gratitude and respect and awe for Him.  Imagine that the gratitude and respect and awe you feel for Him is so great that if He were to walk in this room right now, you would feel humility in a way that is deeper and more profound than you have ever felt it—and that, given the chance to have a moment with Him, you would know nothing to do other than to fall down at His feet and worship Him.

Well, He probably won’t walk into this room right now, but let’s imagine further…

Imagine that in the course of a typically busy week for you, you find out the very stunning news that the Savior is coming to a certain place at a certain time and that you are invited to be there and to meet Him.  In fact, He wants to see you and hopes that you—specifically you—will come.  Further, you learn about the nature and purposes of this event.  These include 1) that you will experience the Savior’s love in a very personal way; 2) that all who come will worship him—not so much through any particular ritual of worship but through pausing to feel the feelings they have for the Savior in their hearts—the gratitude and respect and awe I mentioned earlier—and not just for a fleeting moment, but for a little, sustained while; and 3) each person who comes to this event will be given the opportunity to stand and, with the Savior present, declare their level of personal commitment to Him.  Each will be asked if he or she is willing—and if he or she pledges—to follow him, to remember Him, and to try to do everything that He asks.  Each person will make their declaration publicly to some extent, but the main thing is that the Savior will be there and He will not only focus on you and look into your eyes while you make your declaration, but He will perceive the true, genuine intent of your heart.  And 4) you will not only feel His love, but you will feel His acceptance and you will know that because of Him you are clean and worthy and fully acceptable to Him.  And you will feel His peace.

Imagine lastly, that you know that you can look forward to this event because you know that His love and forgiveness are greater than any sense of shame or embarrassment or guilt you might feel as you approach Him at this place.

The question is:  If you can imagine such an event coming, how do you also imagine you would approach it?

As you realize, this is why we are here today.  We have known throughout our week that a day was coming soon where we would be able to come and meet the Savior.  It’s unlikely that we will meet him here today in a physical sense.  He probably won’t come walking through the door.  But that doesn’t make our meeting Him here today any less genuine.  “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  If I come here in His name seeking Him, I will find Him.  The Savior said through the prophet Jeremiah:  “Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”  He wants us here and hopes that we will come.

When we come to Sacrament Meeting intending to worship, it is very likely that we will feel here His love and His peace.  The words spoken by the speakers in the meeting may or may not contribute to that.  The words and spirit of the hymns we sing will almost certainly contribute to that.  But for the most part, the love and peace we experience won’t be the result of any exterior influence on us other than the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost will help us as we are receptive to him and as our hearts are thoughtfully turned to the Savior.

Note that with the exception of the Sacrament, itself, Sacrament Meetings contain almost no symbolism.  Other than the Sacrament, there is no real ritual or ordinance.  Things are generally not spoken from the pulpit as symbolic metaphors or riddles, but rather as plain, simple teachings.

The Sacrament experience, however, is different.  We all know from the time we are little that the sacrament bread represents the body of Christ and that the sacrament water represents his blood.  But the symbolism of the sacrament is with us throughout the entire meeting and there are things to ponder from the moment we enter this sacred room—which is made sacred first and foremost by its inclusion of the sacrament table.  (We do not consider symbolism enough.  Which may be why when some people go to the temple to receive their endowment and have not been well prepared for the experience, they find it so odd and have a hard time connecting to what is presented.)

Consider, though, some questions like these:

  1. Why is the sacrament placed on an elevated surface?
  2. Why is it at the front of the room?
  3. Why are white cloths placed both beneath and above the bread and the water?
  4. Should I consider as I enter a chapel for sacrament meeting that the Savior’s body is present and is being conspicuously presented to me, though covered?
  5. Why are the priests careful to only uncover one—the bread or the water—at a time?
  6. What is a priest? And why do priests lead the administration of the sacrament?
  7. How significant is the symbolism of a priest standing and literally breaking the symbol for the Savior’s body in front of us?
  8. Why does a priest kneel when he prays?
  9. What does the sacrament prayer mean?
  10. What does it mean that the bread and the water are not just blessed but also sanctified?
  11. What does it mean that they are sanctified to my soul and to your soul?
  12. What does it mean to “witness unto” God?
  13. What does it mean to take upon ourselves the name of Christ?
  14. What does it mean to remember Him—and to always remember Him?
  15. What does it mean to keep His commandments and how does that relate to my imperfect state?
  16. What does the promise at the end mean? What is the significance of having His spirit with me?
  17. What does it mean when a deacon receives the sacrament from a priest and presents it to a member of the congregation?
  18. Why should deacons and priests have clean hands and a pure heart?
  19. What does it mean when a member takes a piece of bread in his fingers and puts it into his mouth? What is he doing?  What is he saying?  Is he doing or saying anything of significance at all or is he merely eating a piece of bread?
  20. Similarly, with the water? To what extent are a member’s heart and mind consciously expressing something when she drinks the water?   To what extent is her heart receiving something?
  21. What does it mean when I pass the symbols of the Savior to the person beside me?
  22. To what extent should I consider the presentation of the sacrament to be a reenactment of the Atonement?

You may think of other questions.

Though we gather in a large body and though we participate in the ordinance of the sacrament as a group, each of us takes the bread and water into our hands and mouths individually, separately.  It is intended to be not just an individual or personal experience, but an intimate experience, the intimacy being between ourselves and God.  Each of us has the ability to make this a sacred, intimate experience.

I have told many candidates for receiving their temple endowment that in my own experiences with the endowment ordinance there have been many times where I have felt or learned something and there have been some times when I have not.

Similarly with the sacrament.  I know from experience that I can sit through a sacrament hymn, watch the priests and deacons, take the bread and the water and not experience much of anything at all.  I also know from experience that I can have a very meaningful, worshipful, and affirming experience when I approach the sacrament thoughtfully and consciously.

It is my prayer that we will—today and always—so approach sacrament meeting and the ordinance of the sacrament:  thoughtfully, consciously, worshipfully.  It is my testimony that our Heavenly Father, the Savior, and the Holy Ghost are involved in the ordinance of the sacrament and that receiving them weekly through a sincere renewal of our commitments to them will bless our lives and strengthen us.

I pray that we will approach the sacrament each week with a powerfully strong sense of humility and reverence.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[Part 2]

Brothers and Sisters,

This is an unusual sacrament meeting today.  I do not recall ever attending a sacrament meeting with just one speaker—let alone having that speaker provide two separate talks.  Part of me wants to apologize for that and part of me does not.  I do not wish to seem self-important in any way today.  On the contrary, I wish to help turn our hearts and minds toward the Savior and toward true worship of Him.

Let me tell you, though, why this happening.

We believe in living prophets.  I believe in living prophets.  I neither worship them nor believe that they are perfect or infallible.  Yet I believe that I should seek more understanding before declaring anything they have done—past or present—to be wrong.  We do not believe in a single living prophet.  Nor do we believe that only one man may receive revelation for the benefit of the entire Church.  What we do believe is that, of the 15 living prophets / ordained apostles among us, one of them has received the responsibility of exercising all the priesthood keys on the earth today and of declaring or defining revelation that applies to the entire Church.

I have experienced over and over again that my life is blessed when I follow the teachings and counsel of these men, which I have not done perfectly, but have done successfully and unsuccessfully enough to know that good things come from following their teachings and bad things come from disregarding their teachings or from taking them lightly.

Do you know what those prophets are very specifically asking us to do today and are you doing it?

Nearly a year and a half ago, those brethren declared to us that upon petitioning the Lord to know what they should do to help build faith and strengthen testimonies of Church members, the answer came back that we should do a better job of keeping the Sabbath Day holy.

Though talks have been given about the Sabbath in General Conference since then and Ensign articles have been published, it has largely fallen to local priesthood leaders—stake presidencies and bishoprics—to help members understand and receive the invitation to elevate both the significance of the Sabbath in our own hearts and minds and to elevate our practices and customs and rituals of observing it.  This applies both to our experience at Church during the three-hour block and also to our experience at home during the Sabbath.

I do not think that we have done enough in this regard in our stake because I don’t think that most of us have responded sufficiently to this invitation.  For the month of September, we decided that the stake presidency would take the place of high councilors in speaking to the wards and that we would try to teach clearly about this topic.  Fortunately or unfortunately, I have ended up with a lot of time in this meeting to try to do so.  I thought it would be good to speak specifically about the sacrament and to do so before we took the sacrament today.

I would now like to say a few things about our observance of the Sabbath during the rest of the day when we are not at church, but usually at home.  I would like to touch on four things…

(1) Saturdays are Important

Everyone in my generation knows the Primary song called “Saturday.”  For some reason, it is not sung very much in Primary these days.  It teaches in simple words that Saturday is an important day because we are planning to observe the Sabbath on the next day and in order to do that effectively, we’re going to have to plan ahead and take care of some specific things on Saturday.  It is about consciousness in our worship.  It’s about acting instead of being acted upon.  It’s about priorities.  It’s about putting God first in our lives.

According to the Bible Dictionary and other sources, our homes and our temples should be similarly sacred.  While this should be true all the time, surely the Sabbath deserves a special effort to make it so.  Our homes should be particularly conducive to worship on Sundays, which means their being clean and orderly with a peaceful atmosphere, probably supported by appropriate music.  Having our homes prepared for the Sabbath takes some effort.  In many families, Saturday chores are common.  We might teach our children the connection between the work we accomplish on Saturdays and the experience we seek on Sundays.

Not just our homes, but we, ourselves, require preparation.  Let me give you an example fresh from my own experience.  Last Saturday night, a week ago, my son and I were invited by a dear friend to attend the BYU-Utah game up at Rice-Eccles Stadium.  I had never before ventured onto such unhallowed ground and thought it was a chance I shouldn’t miss.  I had to get up early the next day, but since the game started at 5:30, I thought it might be OK.  Of course, the game took a very long time and I got to bed later than I’d hoped.  Furthermore, the game was so exciting, I had a hard time shutting off the adrenaline.  After falling asleep sometime after 11:30, I woke up at 2:50 never again to fall asleep before the alarm went off at 4:00.  I think my Sabbath went alright but I can’t say that I put myself in the best position for it.  Contrast that with last night where I DVR’d the game and got a good night’s rest.

The point of that story is not that you’re a sinner if you go to a late-night football game or a saint if you don’t.  But it was an illustrative reminder to me of the value of preparing for the Sabbath.  I would, though, encourage adults and teenagers who are inclined to stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning (or later) to consider the benefits of getting a good night’s rest in time to experience a full and well-prepared-for Sabbath.

(2) Preparation for the Sacrament Begins at Home

My second point is similar; it is that participating in the Sacrament should be considered the most important event of the day and that meaningful participation in the Sacrament begins at home.  In my calling, when I have an appointment with somebody—whether at the church or in their home—it doesn’t work for me to be listening to pop music or sports radio as I drive to the meeting and then hope to immediately turn the Spirit on when I turn the radio off and suddenly be at my best.  Being in the right frame of mind or mood takes a more conscious, thoughtful effort.

None of us would consider going to that meeting with the Savior with no thought for preparation other than to hurriedly throw on some “Sunday” clothes and hustle over there, listening to pop music (or not) on the way over.  Rather, we would be anticipating a spiritual and sacred occasion and we would be asking ourselves often in advance whether we are clean and prepared to be there.

Our Sundays with the Sacrament should be similar.  We should go to bed Saturday night and get up Sunday morning knowing that we have a planned encounter with the Savior and planning to approach it the right way.  We should be ready for church in time to address—and, as necessary, to correct—our frame of mind before we go out to the car or walk to church.  If we have had conflict with a family member, we should address that.  The Savior taught us to “first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

Many Mormons are social people.  Indeed, we come to Church not merely to be strengthened but to help provide support and strength for others.  It is hard not to come into the Chapel and be social.  For some people, it is exceptionally hard to see when being social might be good but not best.  I’m not prepared to suggest a zero-tolerance policy for sociality in the chapel.  But I do think it is important to get to our seats in time to quietly consider the music, to consider the significance of the presentation in front of us of the body of Christ under a shroud, and to be introspective about our readiness to approach Him and what we will say to Him in our hearts as we take the sacrament.

Obviously, there are some family situations—such as having small children and/or being a single parent—that create large challenges.  And sometimes, in spite of admirable plans and efforts, things just go south on us.  In all such cases, we should just do our best and know that the Lord accepts that.  Most of us most of the time, though, do not have exceptional circumstances and we can prepare at home and come prepared.

(3) Dos and Don’ts and Singleness of Heart (D&C 59:13)

Over the years, a lot of Sunday School lessons have included discussions of do’s and don’ts on the Sabbath.

  • Is it OK to watch TV on Sunday?
  • Is it OK to watch sports on Sunday?
  • Is it OK to take a one-hour nap on Sunday? What about a three-hour nap?
  • Can I buy something on Sunday? What if it is from a vending machine?
  • Can I attend a concert on a Sunday? What if it’s from a non-Mormon Christian rock group?
  • Can I play basketball in a rec league on Sundays? What if I’m just shooting hoops in my driveway?
  • Do I have to wear my church clothes all day?

In the talks and discussions coming from general Church leaders over the last 18 months, there has been an explicit avoidance of “do and don’t” lists.  Instead, principles have been taught and members urged to carefully make thoughtful decisions based on important principles.  Let me mention four such principles.

The first two come from statements made by the Savior during his mortal ministry.  It seems He was forever being criticized for healing people on the Sabbath.  It seems, too, as if He sometimes healed on the Sabbath exactly to make a point to those critics.

On one occasion, Pharisees were criticizing the Lord’s disciples for plucking ears of corn on the Sabbath.  In his confrontation with those Pharisees the Lord taught that “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.”  Here we understand that people are more important than trivial rules and that the choices we make regarding our Sabbath activities should take into account their impact on people.  Perhaps taking a nap to refresh or renew ourselves could be a good thing.  Perhaps spending too many hours asleep keeps us from doing things to serve others.

On another occasion, the Lord was about to heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath in front of critical Pharisees.  He confronted them with a question he used multiple times: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day?”  On yet another occasion, where he taught of lifting a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath day he emphatically answered His own question, “It is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.”  Note here that the Sabbath is not intended to be a day of rest in terms of doing as little as possible.  Rather the Sabbath is a day to rest from our usual activities.  But it is not a day to refrain from doing good.  A person could keep the Sabbath it seems and even be quite busy at it.

Of course, many activities can be justified as being “good.”  As Elder Oaks reminds us, though, we have to make careful judgements about what is good, what is better, and what is best.

The third principle comes from Section 59 of the D&C wherein the Lord states that meals should be prepared with “singleness of heart” and which I think suggests that all Sabbath day activities be done with a “singleness of heart” in the sense of having an eye single to the glory of God.  On the Sabbath especially, we worship God and we express our devotion to him.  His wishes and desires for our Sabbath activities should govern our choices.

Lastly, the Old Testament teaches us in three different places that the Lord intends for the Sabbath day to be a sign between us and God.  Elder Nelson said this in conference a year and a half ago:

“In my much younger years, I studied the work of others who had compiled lists of things to do and things not to do on the Sabbath. It wasn’t until later that I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father. With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, “What sign do I want to give to God?” That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear.

This is what seems to be the key question that should govern our behaviors on the Sabbath.  What sign or message am I sending to God by picking this choice?  The message from Salt Lake City today is one of concern that we are not sending the right sign, that we are forgoing blessings because of that, and that the invitation to improve in this area, issued 18 months ago, has not been sufficiently responded to.

(4) Keeping Ourselves Unspotted from the World (D&C 59:9)

The final idea I want to touch on today also comes from Section 59.  The Lord makes reference there to our Sabbath experience keeping us “unspotted from the world.”  This concept also seems to be an immediate concern of living prophets.

As I have travelled around the world, I have sometimes encountered people whose dress and outward appearance clearly identifies them as adherents to a particular religion, presumably devout adherents thereof.  I have seen Orthodox Jews, practicing Muslims, Sikhs, Amish, Buddhists, and probably others.  Two weeks ago, Becky had a wonderful and somewhat surreal experience sitting in the new Philadelphia Temple’s Celestial Room during the open house there as she was surrounded by 20 or so Amish people.

Sometimes we see people and suspect they are LDS by a certain look, but that is much more difficult.  Generally, Mormons are not readily identifiable.  However, as the world’s standards continue to erode while the Lord’s standards remain firm, it will be increasingly important that we stay with the Lord and not slide with the world.  That means not only a willingness to be different from the world, but a willingness to be increasingly different from the world and a willingness to appear different.

Regarding the Sabbath, our choices need to constantly be brought back to the Lord, toward a singleness of purpose toward him, and to doing good on the Sabbath.  The world may think it’s fun and cool, for example, to devote one Sabbath every year to worshiping sport on Super Bowl Sunday.  We may justify that as we might justify just about anything by doing that with our family.  But is that the best sign to give the Lord or is there something much better?  We must be anxious to do things—including observing the Sabbath—the Lord’s way, which will increasingly mean appearing differently from the world even if we don’t dress in obviously religious ways.

Conclusion:  What Are We Asking You to Do?  Family Council and Offer a Sign

In conclusion, Brothers and Sisters—and I thank you for indulging me so long today; it’s tedious to hear one speaker speak this much!—I renew an invitation to you.  If you have already done it, I invite you to do it again.

That invitation is to counsel together as a family.  Hold a family council.  Discuss your observance of the Sabbath.  Discuss your preparation for the Sabbath on Saturdays and your preparation for the Sacrament from home on Sunday mornings.  Discuss your family’s choices of activities.  Most importantly discuss the signs that your family are sending to God.  Consider the signs that you, personally, are sending to God, independent of other family members.

And ask yourselves these questions:  Have we responded to the Prophet’s call for us to elevate our observance of the Sabbath?  And, if prophets are today expressing concern that members have not adequately responded to that invitation, should we also be concerned that our response has not been strong enough?

I testify of the love of our Father in Heaven.  I testify of the goodness He shares with us when we humble ourselves before Him and yield our hearts to Him.  I testify of the goodness He shares with us when we keep our covenant to always remember the Savior and to keep His commandments.  I testify that blessings accrue to us for keeping the Sabbath.  I also know that there are even better reasons to properly observe the Sabbath than because we can expect blessings for so doing.

May we take this invitation seriously.  May we respond to the Lord’s prophets on the earth.  That we will is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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