Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sacrament - Some Thoughts

So, I have to teach a class on the Sacrament at church on Sunday. This is what Catholics call Holy Communion, and I'm sure other denominations have their own names for it, or use some variation on these. It is the bread and wine (or water) taken on Sunday to commemorate the Last Supper, in case you didn't know. I was reading through the material that I'm supposed to be teaching from, and it occurred to me that it somewhat incomplete. I mean, it's not supposed to be comprehensive or anything, just the thoughts and teachings of one man (Joseph F. Smith) on the subject, a hundred years ago or so. I think this might be a good opportunity to delve a little deeper into the history and symbolism and get a larger picture, because, as important as President Smith thought it is, the teachings seem to only scratch the surface of what it is all about.

Of course, maybe this is stuff everyone already know and I'm just late to the party, but then again, it never hurts to review important material.


The story of the Sacrament doesn't begin with Christ at all, or rather it does, but it predates His earthly ministry by several thousand years, with Adam and Eve and their sons. We know from the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis that sacrifice was a requirement even when mankind was young. There is no buildup to the concept in Genesis, it is just presented as though everyone knew about it and accepted it as normal and natural, even to the very first humans on the planet.

Sacrifice required that the best of a crop or litter be given, thus, while Abel ws much loved of God for giving the best of his lambs, Cain found much less favor for giving lesser quality items from his crops. This story, as we know, ended badly.

Forward a few millenia to the time of Moses. We all know the story of the plagues sent to convince Pharoah to Let Moses's People Go. The last one, the Killing of the Firstborn, required the Hebrews to sacrifice a lamb and paint the door frame with its blood, so the Angel of Death would know which houses to pass over. This became, of course, the first Passover, which Jewish people still celebrate today.

After the people were freed from Egypt, they went into the desert where Moses was given the laws that they were to follow. These are in detail in the Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and include many, MANY instructions on sacrifice, including what constiutes a sacrifice, how it should be sacrificed, and who should perform the rites. This was the Tribe of Levi, the Levites, headed by Moses' brother Aaron, the namesake of the Aaronic Priesthood.

What I didn't know before, and I suspect a lot of people probably still don't, is that the sacrifices that were made were not just thrown to rot, or buried away: They were eaten, usually by the priests. There is a lot of sacrificing in these books, and I can't help but wonder how the priests managed to eat so much. You could say that the rituals and prayers would fill a book, and they pretty much do.

There were a lot of other sacrifices to be made by the people at various times throughout the year, but the most prominent was the  Passover, which commemorated the first in Egypt. There were a bunch of ceremonial things that were written for the people to say and do, one of which was to sacrifice a lamb for the Passover dinner, which was then eaten. This is important.

One important rule to remember is this from Leviticus: The eating or drinking of the blood of any animal was forbidden, as the life of the animal is in the blood. The Blood is the Life. Remember this, and remember that it was forbidden.

So, now jump forward about 1400 years to the time of Christ. What we call Good Friday today, the day Christ was crucified, was the day on which Passover fell in that year. So, Christ, who, as we know, was and is referred to as the Lamb of God, was sacrificed by his father (remember the story of Abraham and Isaac?) on Passover.

The night before, at the Last Supper, Christ gave instructions concerning the Sacrament: the bread was His body, which was eaten by the Apostles, the wine His blood. So, four thousand years of sacrifice culminates in the Sacrifice of Christ as the Passover Lamb of God. All history to this point foreshadows this event.

And remember, blood was forbidden to be ingested, because the Blood is the Life? By taking in the water used in the Sacrament, we are symbolically taking into ourselves the Life of Christ. To drink the life of a living being is death; to drink the Life of Christ is Life Everlasting. We are making the commitment and covenant to live as He would have us lived and to try to live as He Himself did live.
When we partake of the Sacrament in Sacrament meeting each week, we are not just renewing our covenants and remembering the Atonement of Christ, we are recreating the Last Passover, in which the Blood of the Lamb was shed for us, that the Angel of Death would pass over our house for all eternity, if only we will believe in Christ and do as He asks us.

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