Communion Through the Sacrament by Mark Fisher
Good morning. My name is Mark Fisher and I have been married for nearly twenty years to my wife and have four kids because of that wonderful union. I work in federal law enforcement investigating customs and immigration violations. Beyond that, I strive every day to better figure out who I am and why I am. I have undoubtedly inherited a wealth of blessings from my forebears who, like me, shared some of the same interests and convictions.
My great great great great grandfather was a carpenter in England when he came upon the missionary group led by Lorenzo Snow in the mid-1840s. About a decade after that, he migrated to what was then considered Zion and became a local Sheriff in Bountiful, UT. His son, John, enlisted in the Utah Militia around the time U.S. President James Buchanan was belligerently deploying federal troops to the land of Deseret to intimidate Brigham Young and his band of unwieldy followers into submission of federal law. Little did they know that one of their sons in their prolific lineage would also find employment in both what is now the Utah National Guard and Homeland Security Investigations as a curious coincidence of sorts. As their sacrifice attests, I would like to think that the sacrament likely meant a lot to my ancestors, as it does to me.
As I ponder the sacrament’s emblems, their significance, and my ability to live up to taking the Savior’s name on myself, I feel heartened. Heartened to know that despite all the trials and difficulties of the week, I can always come for reset through my covenant to always follow him. The sacrament means so much to many but for me it means a chance to recenter my life around him. What brilliance is the Savior to know that his disciples would need such a regular symbol to comfort and remind us of who we are in relation to him. What added brilliance that the Savior would give us such a palpable physical reminder by literally consuming nutrition and figuratively embracing his very being.
In Spanish, the weekly taking of the sacrament is referred to as “La Santa Cena” which translates to “the holy supper” when referencing it every Sunday. I say this because I prefer that phrase to describe it. By remembering the conditions on that holy evening and everything that came before and after that, I focus on his willingness to take it all upon himself. It also makes me think, that in some form I was there with his apostles, taking the bread from his hand hours from the sacrificial offering.
My talk today is based on the sacrament and more specifically when the Nephites were taught it in 3rd Nephi. The redeemer speaks to the Nephites by reminding them of the resurrected body they have been witness to with his visit. But he also reminded them in chapter 18, verse 7, that by taking the symbolic emblem of the holy body of Christ, they are bearing witness to the Father, their witness of His holy son. As was common during His life, Christ reminded both the believers and non-believers with frequency about acting as the perfect reflection and representation of the Father. In other words, when taking the sacrament by consuming his being into ours, we are accepting the Father’s offering of His Son and accepting the Father’s image upon ourselves too. By accepting this, our creation is affirmed since we were made in His likeness and image.
Through our covenant-renewal, the Savior knows He can rely on us by showing that we are ready to follow Him. The Savior reminded the Nephites that for those that are willing to take Him upon them, they are building their foundation upon the Rock. The rock of salvation being Christ was mentioned in the New Testament but it also emerged as the perfect image lesson by which to teach the Nephites at that time. Thus showing the Master’s consistency and object lessons that are for all of us children to learn from despite our differences of time and culture.
I find it compelling that our resurrected Savior used the sacrament as the primary medium by which our discipleship would be measured. In verse 10 of the same chapter, He mentions those that take the sacrament, complete His commandments. And following up in verse 11 by saying those that continue to use the sacrament as a tool for repentance, will always have His spirit. It is important to remember that before the Savior departed the world as a mortal, He left behind the sacrament of the Holy Supper, and before He left his followers upon return as a resurrected being, He left with them the Holy Spirit. With His visit to the Nephites, He wrapped those two into one as the essentials by which discipleship would be practiced after His ascension. President Brigham Young, speaking of the sacrament, said, “Its observance is as necessary to our salvation as any other of the ordinances and commandments that have been instituted in order that … people may be sanctified” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 171).
It is also no small coincidence that Moroni left us with the sacrament prayers near the end of the Book of Mormon. All of this points to a potent final preparation for all of us. Knowing that those who would come after His ascension into heaven are left with the powerful tools of the sacrament coupled with the Holy Ghost. Those in effect, represent our means to come to know Him in these days. And on a corollary note, show how the New Testament and Book of Mormon combine to communicate the true doctrine of the sacrament despite no overlap in history, language, or culture.
In addition to the institution of the sacrament, the Savior taught the Nephites how to pray and above all, to always pray. That through prayer we would resist all temptation and more solidly stand upon the rock and to listen to the source of all light, that of the great “I AM.” Only through such direct communion with the Savior, through light giving prayer, repentance by consumption of His sacrifice and direct impressions from the Holy Ghost, can we qualify as His sheep that know His voice. For those of us struggling to know God and His will for us in this fallen world, let these tools, and our faith in them, be the way to bridge that essential connection.
We all know that the Savior declared that only through him could any man or woman inherit the kingdom of God. During his ministry, He said to a crowd of followers that all had to consume His body to achieve it. Most in the audience at the time felt that it was a hard lesson to take or even understand and stopped following Him after that. Jesus even asked Peter and the other disciples if they would leave Him too given the poor reception this message had. Immediately preceding that lesson, a large volume of people was following Him in rapture of His many miracles. Why then after witnessing so many miracles did those who felt compelled by this marvel of a man from Nazareth decide that taking His being upon their own feel so difficult to accept? Or was it a commitment just too far for their faith to stretch? I don’t know that answer. Many are called, but few are chosen.
In 2008, Elder Dallin Oaks said this when referencing the sacrament: “I sense that some in the rising generation and even some adults have not yet come to understand the significance of this meeting and the importance of individual reverence and worship in it.” Undoubtedly, keen in his observation, Oaks and President Nelson are well-aware of the importance this ordinance holds in our lives if we want to be closer to our Savior.
In 2004, then Elder Nelson taught the priesthood leaders of the Church how to plan and conduct sacrament meetings. “We commemorate His Atonement in a very personal way,” Elder Nelson said. “We bring a broken heart and a contrite spirit to our sacrament meeting. It is the highlight of our Sabbath-day observance."
We are seated well before the meeting begins. "During that quiet interval, prelude music is subdued. This is not a time for conversation or transmission of messages but a period of prayerful meditation as leaders and members prepare spiritually for the sacrament.”
Understood correctly, the brethren are telling us that we are here for quiet contemplation in deference to our beloved and triumphant Savior. Also, by treating the sacrament with due reverence, we show to Him our respect and love for His willingness to endure so much pain, suffering, anguish, humiliation and ultimately death from hours-long torture made the more agonizing when left all alone by the Father, who undoubtedly went through His own torment witnessing it all. The sacrament then encapsulates our appreciation of the redeeming pain and agony felt to bind His flock – all of us- to Him.
From Elder Oaks, "How can we have the Spirit of the Lord to guide our choices so that we will remain 'unspotted from the world' (D&C 59:9) and on the safe path through mortality? We need to qualify for the cleansing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We do this by keeping His commandment to come to Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and in that wonderful weekly meeting partake of the emblems of the sacrament and make the covenants that qualify us for the precious promise that we will always have His Spirit to be with us (see D&C 20:77)."
My personal experience with the sacrament has been one of ebbs and flows. When I am more engaged to disciplined observance of my covenants, the sacrament has meant a lot. Other times when not, naturally not as much. Curiously for me my patriarchal blessing mentions how the sacrament will grow in importance to me and to my relationship with my Redeemer as I age. This has indeed been the case. But not long ago, it was not.
As a young lieutenant deployed to Afghanistan, I was overwhelmed by the moment. I had just returned from a two-week respite leave to see my son Lafe’s birth. Only to return days later to the war. Weeks went by as pressure and the anxiety of being separated from my family at such a critical time were adding up. I stopped attending the regular branch Sacrament meeting our Battalion had organized for a variety of reasons I am sure, just none I can readily remember. What I do remember is the separation I felt from the spirit and light of Christ. All I felt was the gloom of death over everything around me. This was coupled with the complexities of trying to do my job screening out terrorists caught on the battlefield for lawful long-term detention. I became an antagonist to many of my fellow soldiers because my duty required me to recommend release of those we could not lawfully retain based on my review of the available evidence and intelligence within a short 72-hour window upon initial detention. That weighed on me heavily knowing that by releasing potentially dangerous enemy combatants, I could be responsible for more carnage if I got it wrong.
All this was compounding on me without any real spiritual consolation until one day, someone at the branch asked me to bless the sacrament. The request felt oddly timed only because my work took me away from my fellow congregants and so there was little interaction with them. At first I felt some fear-based thoughts telling me that I was unworthy and that I should tell them no. But, after fighting through it realizing they thought through this invitation with purpose, I agreed.
Being behind the emblems felt so refreshing. During and after the sacrament the peace that rested upon me felt like an amazing relief as the Spirit washed over me. I felt like a different person. No longer was I just a small struggling soldier but felt reassured that my mission is much greater than my temporal condition, and much more durable. It all put in perspective my place in a world so tossed about in conflict borne from division and darkness. After that, I felt committed to take the sacrament more. My duty became lighter and the death I continued to witness, felt more purposeful with compassion, perspective and love motivating my outlook. I felt lifted from the pains of worry and stress to wonderful impressions of light and truth.
Fast forward years later to now and I can reflect on what the sacrament has meant to me in the aggregate. More than at any previous time, it means everything to me. My sins are washed through my thoughtful and action-based repentance through this sacred ordinance. I cannot even consider how my progression could have moved forward and continues to without it.
It is easy to take for granted what the sacrament means. Especially as the routine of it feels too routine. But life and all its difficulties make the sacrament not just a comfortable respite from the worries of the world, but an end unto itself to enable us to be more noble beings in likeness to our creators.
For me, the sacrament is the best part of my Sunday worship. Feeling the healing after a week dealing with the natural man is a comfort I cannot take lightly. Without the sacrament, I simply do not know how I could effectively repent for my regular spiritual and emotional renewal. What a blessing it is to have this tremendous tool. I give thanks to God for His plan engineered to draw us closer to His benevolent son in such deliberately effective and regular ways.