For thousands of years, before the coming of Jesus Christ, believers would show their faith and enter into solemn covenants with God by offering animal sacrifices. This ordinance, filled with powerful symbolism, represented fundamental aspects of the worship of the Lord for some of the greatest prophets who ever lived.
Particularly in ancient societies, the term “sacrifice” was well-suited. People relied on the meat and milk of animals for food, their skins, furs, and wool for clothing, and their muscle to accomplish work. They needed animals for survival.
To give up an animal meant a significant impact on livelihood… It demonstrated that God’s will and worship exceeded the importance of any other aspect of life.
Of course, giving up the first and best of the flock also symbolically represented the Father giving up the first and best of His children – His only begotten – to prioritize His love for us. Real loss was to be experienced by both parties in the covenant in order for the great gift of forgiveness to be kept properly reverenced.
Before going to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus taught his apostles a new ordinance – one that similarly reverenced His atonement, but was not associated with the great personal cost of animal sacrifice. He offered them the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
The Book of Mormon confirms that this activity was not just something his disciples in the old world “came up with.”
And it came to pass that Jesus commanded his disciples that they should bring forth some bread and wine unto him.
And while they were gone for bread and wine, he commanded the multitude that they should sit themselves down upon the earth.
And when the disciples had come with bread and wine, he took of the bread and brake and blessed it; and he gave unto the disciples and commanded that they should eat.
And when they had eaten and were filled, he commanded that they should give unto the multitude.
And when the multitude had eaten and were filled, he said unto the disciples: Behold there shall one be ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name.
And this shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done, even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you.
And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.
And it came to pass that when he said these words, he commanded his disciples that they should take of the wine of the cup and drink of it, and that they should also give unto the multitude that they might drink of it.
And it came to pass that they did so, and did drink of it and were filled; and they gave unto the multitude, and they did drink, and they were filled.
And when the disciples had done this, Jesus said unto them: Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you.
And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name; and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.
And I give unto you a commandment that ye shall do these things. And if ye shall always do these things blessed are ye, for ye are built upon my rock. (3 Nephi 18: 1-12)
The commandment is clear – followers of Jesus are to partake of the sacrament as a part of their worship.
It seems like quite a different type of ordinance – in fact, in some ways, it can be thought of as undoing animal sacrifice. Instead of imparting from the source of sustenance… instead of personally giving up our food… we receive food.
Of course, the close tie to the sacrifice of Christ is still there… with the bread and drink representing the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. The covenant, the reverence, and the worship are also all bound to the sacrament… but the differences are worth pondering.
Before, a person gave to God – after, a person receives from Him.
Before, a person lost food and sustenance – after, a person obtains it.
Before, an animal life was taken – after, life is preserved.
The transition between the old and the new perfectly surrounds Jesus Christ, and mirrors what he won with His atonement:
Before Christ, a person died and could not be resurrected – after, many saints who slept arose and appeared to many.
Without Christ, a person was lost – with Him, a person could find forgiveness and be made whole.
In the absence of Christ, we are prone to be taken by temptation and lost – in His protection, our divine potential can be preserved and flourish.
Perhaps, the next time you partake of the sacrament, you will consider not only what you eat and drink, but also what you are not doing. There are no sacrificial lambs on the table… no sprinkling of blood or consuming flesh in fire. Perhaps, the next time you receive the broken bread, or press the cup to your lips, you will take a moment to think about how JESUS CHANGED EVERYTHING… Perhaps, when you ponder the magnitude of the Lord’s Supper, the changes He asks of you will seem less difficult.
- Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: Book of Mormon 2020, August 31- September 6.
- “The Sacrament and the Atonement” -Elder James J. Hamula, October 2014
- “This Do in Remembrance of Me” -Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, October 1995
- “Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper” -Elder L. Tom Perry, April 1996