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?