Sacramental Musings

Since I’ve started taking New Testament Greek classes I’ve started paying more attention to small details in the text, about the only benefit of reading about 10 words a minute. The thing that’s been on my mind concerns the sacrament and it’s covenantal function. David J.’s wonderfully controversial post on baptism brought forward my opinion about the sacrament being the true covenant that people attribute to baptism. I’m not going to go there with this post, but it also helped me to articulate the question I’m about to pose. Sooo, why do we take the sacrament so often?


I don’t have a problem with the answer “cuz Jesus says so”; this is the simplest and most honest answer. But why did he command us to do it?

With every other covenant we make, once is good enough. We used to have multiple baptisms in the Church (I don’t know why and I don’t know much about it, maybe someone can explain how it relates here) but we don’t anymore and we teach that one baptism is enough. We go through the temple often and do lots of proxy work there but after the first time it’s never for ourselves.

The sacrament is different. We do it over and over for ourselves, taking it for our personal benefit hundreds, even thousands, of times in a lifetime. Also, it’s the only covenant that we don’t perform for the dead by proxy. In David J.’s post I didn’t hear anyone arguing that there is no covenant involved with Lord’s Supper. So what gives?

The thing that struck me while I was translating was the explanation that the Savior gives when he institutes the sacrament. But in the interest of order, I decided to start with the oldest accounts first and move forward in time.

The oldest account, perhaps a little surprisingly, is found in 1 Corinthians 11. Beginning with verse 20, Paul is brought to the subject by a conflict in Corinth among the saints. The problem is that the more wealthy saints appear to be getting together to have a decadent communal meal before they have their ritual communal meal. The poor are getting left out and the rich are getting drunk. Not a good scene.

Paul then explains in verse 23 that he gave them the form of the ordinance just as he received it and then relates the story. The bread represents the broken body of Christ and is taken in remembrance of his sacrifice. The wine is then given in a communal cup which “is the new testament in my blood.” There are a lot of ways to translate that last “in” and I prefer to think that it is probably a dative of instrument. I would say that the blood is the means by which we enter into the new testament or covenant. But my Greek is not the best and I welcome some help from on high (Mogs). This is also done in remembrance of Christ and his sacrifice.

Verse 26 reiterates: that we show/demonstrate that we remember the Lord and his passion every time we take it. This turns out to be the great common denominator of all the accounts that we have about the institution of the sacrament. The key seems to be remembrance.

The next earliest account is in Mark 14. And just when I say that remembrance is the common factor among the accounts, here comes Mark to be the exception that proves the rule. Without Paul’s earlier account, Bible scholars would probably look at this missing aspect and declare that Jesus never said it and that Matthew and Luke added it in later. Or less likely that Mark originally said it but it is no longer extant in our texts. In any case, we don’t have to worry about that garbage. Thank you, Paul.

The only other thing that I will add at this point is that all of the NT accounts have Christ blessing the bread before breaking it up and passing it out. All of our Restoration scriptures reverse this and have the bread broken first, then blessed and passed. Not really important; I’m just sayin’.

Aww man. Matthew doesn’t say that either is for remembrance either. He does add that the wine represents the blood of Christ which was shed for the remission of sins for many. He’s also the first to note that they sang a hymn before they left. Neither seems to pertain to the question at hand. At first glance saying something about the blood of Christ might appear to apply but I’m told that we don’t believe that the sacrament actually grants the forgiveness of sins. So we are just remembering that the shedding of blood makes it possible, not that its symbol grants it.

Luke changes the order of events a little and adds that Jesus says he will not eat of the bread as well as the wine until he does it in the kingdom of God. But thankfully he does say that the bread is given in remembrance of him. So half of our NT sources have Christ teaching that some part of the sacrament is taken in remembrance of him.

The next oldest account is the one in 3 Nephi. I wasn’t sure if it was first or fifth in the order of time recorded. I decided that Mormon was responsible for the record Joseph Smith looked at and that really our record comes from Joseph Smith so I put it here. Also, it creates a NT first, Mormon scripture second division that I like.

Here the disciples (Nephite 12) get the sacrament first and then they are commanded to take it to the multitude. In Christ’s explanation the sacrament is to be given to every person baptized for the remembrance of Christ’s blood. But remember isn’t the key word here. The words “testimony” (vs.7) and “witness” (vs.10-11) are. In verse 7 the remembrance that comes with eating the bread represents “a testimony to the Father that [we] do always remember [him].”

The cup is the same. Jesus said “and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you,” in verse 10. Verse 11 repeats this same injunction saying that by taking the sacrament and by ritually demonstrating that we remember Christ’s death and suffering we are witnessing to the Father about our commitment to his Son and him.

The D&C doesn’t seem to add anything new but it does reiterate what our Gospels tell us (3 Nephi is clearly a Gospel from chapter 11 on). We are commanded to meet together often to take the sacrament (20:75) and that it doesn’t matter what we use for the emblems, it only matters that we “remember unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins”(27:2). The rest of the verses focus on being clean and worthy before taking the emblems.

This might be anticlimactic for you all. The prayers themselves explicitly say that everyone who takes the bread and wine (water) is doing it in remembrance of Christ’s body and blood in order to witness to the Father that we are willing to make and keep the covenants of taking Christ’s name on us and keep the commandments.

In truth, it’s a little anticlimactic to me too. It’s a bit more meaningful, which is good. But the point of remembering Christ’s atonement through the sacrament is to witness to God that we are willing to make and keep commandments. I don’t think that answers the question. Do we really make that commandment every week? If so, why? Why isn’t the first time good enough?

I tentatively ask whether any of you all think that it is possible that we make the covenant the first time and each time after we ritually remember the atonement and the covenant we made in relation to it. The only thing that changes is that the covenant isn’t “renewed,” it’s remembered which ought to be enough.

I have heard that the sacrament is a renewal of baptismal covenants. I have even heard that it is a renewal of all covenants that we have made in the temple too. But I don’t find any scriptural evidence for this. What is meant by renewal? Do we really need to remake or even renew our covenants unless we get excommunicated and re-admitted? I’m skeptical.

So I’m sorry that this post really truly represents my musings without taking a firm stance. I think that it is very possible that the purpose of taking the sacrament so frequently is to remember our covenants and the atonement of Christ but that no remaking of covenants actually occurs. Thoughts?

16 Replies to “Sacramental Musings”

  1. Yo Dude! When you said a few days ago that you were working on a post that would be less controversial than predestination, I expected a disquisition on the implications of the use of histemi in the perfect or something like that . There are a few things more contested than predestination and guess what!? The Lord’s Supper is surely one of them. I think we’re talkin’ solid brass, here.

    That said, nice post!

    FWIW, I believe that the scholarly concensus on the wording is that the longer text is the authentic. Luke and Paul seem to have it from a common source; Mark may have altered the saying to fit his narrative purposes. The original arguments go back to Jeremias and Bornkamm, but I think John Meier has a nice (and recent) article on the matter. Since it’s in the CBQ, I expect you can download it from ATLA.

    Another fruitful avenue that I have made a mental note to pursue is the parallels between baptism and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a means to identity. In baptism, you’re “there” at the death and resurrection of Christ, while in the Lord’s Supper you’re “there” at the founding event of Christian fellowship.

  2. One thing that is important and I think is a bit lost in modern focus on baptismal covenant renewal is the loss of community. It is a shift from communal ritual to personal ritual. I love Zebedee Coltrin’s recollection of Joseph’s School of the Prophet’s:

    The salutation as written in the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 88:136-141] was carried out at that time, and at every meeting, and the washing of feet was attended to, the sacrament was also administered at times when Joseph appointed, after the ancient order; that is, warm bread to break easy was provided and broken into pieces as large as my fist and each person had a glass of wine and sat and ate the bread and drank the wine; and Joseph said that was the way that Jesus and his disciples partook of the bread and wine. And this was the order of the church anciently and until the church went into darkness. Every time we were called together to attend to any business, we came together in the morning about sunrise, fasting and partook of the sacrament each time, and before going to school we washed ourselves and put on clean linen. (Minutes, Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, October 3, 1883)

    It is more than a renewal of baptismal covenants, or we wouldn’t allow children (and in some cases visitors) take it.

  3. Mogs: Oops. And I thought I’d go out on a Mormon limb and use 3 Nephi while calling it a Gospel and placing it after the NT accounts. My ignorance and inexperience in the field shows again. As for being “there” at the founding event of Christian fellowship, I really like that idea. Doesn’t it also put you there are the death too? Baptism and Sacrament have so much in common it’s not hard to see why they get connected so often.

    J.: Great point. And I really like the quote. I’ve heard rumors that when the First Presidency and Twelve meet in the temple on Thursdays that they each get a whole slice of bread when they take the sacrament. As for losing fellowship by the way we do it now, so you mean that we don’t have as much fellowship or that we don’t discuss the idea of community that’s implied in the sacrament?

  4. Very interesting. Having read 2 Ne 28 so much on my mission, I tend to think of the sacrament in terms of enduring to the end: we only need to be reborn once, but until we’ve “made it,” it’s important that we continue in that initial covenant (do the scriptures really describe baptism as a covenant? if so, where?). In this sense, I’m not sure there’s a dramatic distinction between renew and remember (which is why I said ambiguously “keep alive”). In other words, I don’t think of the baptismal covenant as a one time event, but more of an ongoing covenant, and so if it’s ongoing, remember and renew are fairly interchangeable.

  5. Ok, I was the Baptismal Covenant adherent last time around, so I am gonna leave that one alone for now…

    Anyway, tangentially, I first want to say that in a regional conference i went to about 8 years ago in Indiana, Elder Nelson mentioned the blessing and breaking, breaking and blessing, and noted it symbolically significant as “bless then break” was pre-atonement and “break then bless” was post-atonement. Thought I’d throw that out there, if nothing else, but to document the musings of an apostle.

    As for the Sacramanet, and renewing and remembering, I am not sure what the difference is. I guess I think of renewing something when we have let it slip from our focus, and thus we make a concerted effort to put it back in place as a priority. For a bad analogy, like a basketball team getting back to basics. We have an opportunity to valuate our life as we remember our covenant relationship with our Father in Heaven everyweek, and to make changes as needed.

    This reasoning may all stem from my favorite line from the Catholic Mass: “I am not worthy to recieve you, but only say the words and I shall be healed.” In other words, I am a sinner, imperfect, etc., but as you help me know what I need to do to be better, I will do it.

    A committment remembered is a committment renewed.

  6. With respect to the purpose and covenants associated with the Sacrament, I compared the text of the two prayers and came up with some stuff that may be of interest. But, overall, it is pretty plain the primary purpose of the Sacrament is to remember the covenants we have made to the Lord, all of them. Personally, I see all covenants as ancillary to the one at baptism. At baptism, we agree to take the Lord’s name upon us and do what he taught, which is pretty much everything. What in the Temple is not included in that? It is just that the Temple covenants are more specific and didactic with explicit rewards and penalties, same as many of the other OT covenants. So, I dont take the Sacrament as specifically in rememberance of only Baptism.

    Also, with respect to the rememberance theme associated with the Sacrament, recall that Jesus instituted the sacrament at a Passover Seder, the major theme of which is that Israel is to remember what the Lord did in delivering Israel from Egypt. Also, note that when the Lord appeared in the New World and instituted the Sacrament it was about 1 calendar year after he was crucified, so that places it once again at…yes…the Passover. I think we as Christians have entirely too quickly discarded the symbolism and ancient context out of which the Sacrament came, and in so doing have missed a lot of its meaning.

  7. Good post. Good angle there.

    I would just add that even though it is just a token of remembrance to the Lord and ourselves that we will testify of Christ and remember him always, it is also an ordinance performed for the worthy members that they will “continue” to show obedience to their saving covenants such as baptism.

    I would tend to agree with you though that partaking of the sacrament does nothing to “renew” your baptismal covenants as one must already be “worthy” (clean) in order to partake of the holy ordinance. I see it more as a sign that we “still uphold” and “bear record” of him.

    Look also at the JST of Matthew 26:22-25-

    22. And as they were eating, Jesus took abread, and brake it, and blessed it, and gave to his disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is in remembrance of my body which I give a ransom for you.
    24. For this is in remembrance of my blood of the new testament, which is shed for as many as shall believe on my name, for the remission of their sins.
    25. And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall observe to do the things which ye have seen me do, and bear record of me even unto the end.

    (JST | Matthew 26:22 – 25)

  8. I have been reading the upcoming Sunday School readings for this week and find some releveance to what I have been reading in John 3,4 to this topic. Jesus is talking about being born again and how a person “must be born of the water and of the spirit’ in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven. While I see that taking the Sacrament is a weekly thing the reason I believe that we do it so often and it isn’t good enough to do just once is because as a remembrance of Jesus, we are continually becoming born again! While we must be worthy to be baptized and receive our covenants in the first place, I have reason to believe that this being ‘born again” is actually more of a process than a one time event and that by taking the sacrament each week in remembrance of Jesus Christ, we are continually being reminded of our ongoing journey that does not end until this life is over… of our continual dependance upon the Lord for forgiveness everyday for our many sins and to remind us to use the Atonement of which is a gift. As someone posted above we are being reminded of our committment and our covenants, but not to the point that it makes them more valid, but because it is for our spiritual benefit, to reflect upon the things that we need to ask for forgiveness of, the things we need to fix and do better, etc. Without the personal remembrance of the Lord’s ultimate sacrifice, we forget our reason for our covenants in the first place.

  9. This reasoning may all stem from my favorite line from the Catholic Mass: “I am not worthy to recieve you, but only say the words and I shall be healed.

    Yeah, I like those words myself.

  10. Sorry guys that it’s taken me all day to get back to most of you. A long day of school and then work will take you out of the loop when people are most likely to read your post.

    Robert C: Nice distinction. I like that very much. It makes a lot of sense to me that remembering is a form of personal renew and re-commitment without actually making it again.

    Matt: Thanks for being my best replier to my posts. Good to see you again. And thanks for the E. Nelson anecdote. I don’t know why the atonement would change the order but I did miss the fact that it separates the two events. And thank you for sharing that line from the Catholic Mass. As a group, us LDS people only tend to think that we are truly unworthy of everything when we are being overly pessimistic or put on the spot. It’s not an important part of our mindset and it should be.

    Kurt: Music to my ears, man. Anytime you want to claim that we moderns have unwisely discarded the symbolisms of the ancients, you just come and talk to me and I’ll whine right with you till I’m blue in the face. It’s one of my greatest disappointments that symbols don’t mean as much to us today as our religious forebears. It sounds like everyone that has responded has the basic agreement that renewal is not remaking. Guess I’m just slow figuring this all out now.

    Rob: Thanks but, again, it sounds like I’m late to the party and that everyone else has already figured this all out.

    Stephanie: Your comment deserves a whole other post. I’m very interested in the idea of being born again but any response I have to that will end up as a separate post.

  11. In David J.’s post I didn’t hear anyone arguing that there is no covenant involved with Lord’s Supper.

    Because it goes without saying??? Kind of like paedobaptism in the Bible – absence of evidence is no evidence of absence (ooh! that statement is chiastic! It must mean that it’s genuinely ancient!!!).

  12. Not that it goes without saying, I argued strongly in the comments that the sacrament was the covenant instead of baptism and no one refuted that there was no covenant involved in the sacrament. If I argue for and no one argues against and it was the heart of the discussion then I don’t think I’m out of line in assuming that everyone else agreed.

  13. Not to be a pain, as the only one I’m sure who didnt read the whole blog and all the replies – regarding multiple baptisms:

    Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had to be rebaptised after the church was officially organised as it is the only way to enter into the church. So they had been baptised, made the covenants etc. but were not mambers of christ’s church (this being impossible at the time of their baptism). This may have been the case for others, i’m not sure.
    Pre-restoration, after the deaths of the apostles when the world was going apostate the practice of being rebaptised annually began to occur, however this was unecessary and the product of false doctrine.

    sorry if im repeating whats been said.

  14. (re-baptism)…was unecessary [sic.] and the product of false doctrine.

    Rose, actually Brigham Young was baptized seven times. Re-baptism is not apostate. I submit that singular baptism is more apostate than multiple baptism. Anyway, if you want the skinny on early LDS doctrine of re-baptism, check out Ogden Kraut’s little paperback called, naturally, Rebaptism. It’s got all the goodies in there.

  15. lxx, no idea if you check back into these, but I’ve been reading a lot about mikveh, and if the Sacrament is really the Mormon Baptismal Covenant, then it makes sense why we do it over and over, just as Jewish Men and Women perform the mikveh over and over.

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