Friday, November 14, 2014

The Sacrament- a Renewal for the Soul

by Cheryl A. Esplin

This past year, I've been trying to make the Sacrament more meaningful and useful in my life.  This talk was perfect and went right along with my goal.

Let's begin with the story Sister Esplin shared of a 96-year-old father.  His son asked him, "Dad, why do you go to church?  You can't see or hear, and it's hard for you to get around?"  The father replied, "It's the sacrament.  I go to partake of the sacrament."

The sacrament is truly what it's all about!

'One of the invitations inherent in the sacramental ordinance is that it be a truly spiritual experience, a holy communion, a renewal for the soul.' -Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

"How can the sacrament 'be a truly spiritual experience, a holy communion, a renewal for the soul each week?

A couple years ago my Stake issued a letter titled, Reverence, Sacrament, and Revelation (you can read it HERE if you're interested).  Here are a few of the parts from that letter that really touched me and inspired me to change the way I view and participate in the sacramental ordinance:

"The ordinance of the sacrament makes the sacrament meeting the most sacred and important meeting in the Church." Dallin H. Oaks – October 2008 – “Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament”
“Sacrament meeting is the most sacred and holy of all the meetings in the Church.” Quentin L. Cook – April 2010 – “We follow Jesus Christ”
When you really think about one of the primary reasons for the “houses” of the Lord (Temples, Meetinghouses), it is to administer the “ordinances” of the gospel. And it is in the ordinances, that the “power of God is manifest” (D&C 84: 20-21). The chapel within our meetinghouses represents an “ordinance room”. 
When we begin to understand the sacred connection between reverence, the sacrament, and revelation we begin to qualify for an endowment of knowledge, power, and protection that we have yet to realize. 
Are we preparing and looking forward to the Sacrament as the focal point of our worship each week? Do we come to Sacrament meeting prepared with specific questions? Are we ready to record impressions and answers that come to us during sacrament meeting? 
“For the sacrament to be a spiritually cleansing experience each week, we need to prepare ourselves before coming to sacrament meeting.” Robert D. Hales – April 2012 – “Coming to Ourselves”
We invite every member to prayerfully ask during each sacrament meeting, “who can I love and serve this week?” or “What will thou have me do?” - Come prepared to record the impressions and feelings you receive. Writing down your impressions demonstrates your appreciation and desires to follow the Savior in your life. Reflect upon the past weeks “assignments” and impressions to give an accounting unto the Lord. Show Him you desire to qualify for additional assignments from the spirit.
As we prayerfully prepare our hearts and our minds to offer unto the Lord an “acceptable offering” in relation to our reverence, the sacrament, and our desires to seek for revelation, we know that the Lord will bring forth the marvelous blessings promised. Our homes and families will be strengthened. Our faith will increase. Our love of the Savior and his infinite Atonement will heal and bless us. The Lord has stated, “Return unto me and I will return unto you” (Mal 4) As we give to him our hearts, He will give unto us His unspeakable gifts and blessings through our obedience, our faith, and our reverence of the ordinance that reflects his Atonement.
The Lord desires to endow us with power from on high. We are usually the ones that “deny the power of God” through our casual worship and lack of reverence and understanding of the laws upon which “all blessings are predicated”.
Sister Esplin recommends "we listen to the sacrament prayers and recommit to our covenants.  To do this, we must be willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ."
According to President Henry B. Eyring,  To take upon us the name of Jesus Christ  means:
 We must see ourselves as His.  
We will put Him first in our lives.  
We will want what He wants rather than what we want or what the world teaches us to want.
"As we partake of the sacrament, we witness to God that we will remember His Son always, not just during the brief sacrament ordinance.  This means that we will constantly look to the Savior's example and teachings to guide our thoughts, our choices, and our acts."
"The sacrament prayer also reminds us that we must 'keep His commandments'."
"The sacrament gives us an opportunity for introspection and an opportunity to turn our hearts and will to God.  Obedience to the commandments brings the power of the gospel into our lives and greater peace and spirituality."
"The sacrament provides a time for a truly spiritual experiences as we reflect upon the Savior's redeeming and enabling power through His Atonement."
Sister Esplin shares the story of a woman who each week, during the sacrament conducted a self-evaluation.  She would recall any mistakes she had made and then she would recommit to be better the next week.  One Sunday, after doing this, she began to feel gloomy and pessimistic.  She recognized that she was making the same mistakes over and over each week.  She then had a distinct impression that she neglecting the enabling power of the Atonement.  "She was forgetting all the times the Savior helped her be who she needed to be and serve beyond her own capacity."
"With this in mind, she reflected again on the previous week.  She said: "A feeling of joy broke through my melancholy as I noted that He had given me many opportunities and abilities.  I noted with gratitude the ability I had to recognize my child's need when it wasn't obvious.  I noted that on a day when I felt I could not pack in one more thing to do, I was able to offer strengthening words to a friend.  I had shown patience in a circumstance that usually elicited the opposite from me. . .As I thank God for the Savior's enabling power in my life, I felt so much more optimistic toward the repentance process I was working through and I looked to the next week with renewed hope."
I love Elder Melvin J. Ballard's quote in this talk about repenting BEFORE we participate in the ordinance of the sacrament not during.  "If we have sincerely repented and put ourselves in proper condition,  we shall be forgiven and spiritual healing will come to our souls. . . I am a witness, that there is a spirit attending the administration of the sacrament that warms the soul from head to foot; you feel the wounds of the spirit being healed, and the load being lifted.  Comfort and happiness come to the soul that is worthy and truly desirous of partaking of this spiritual food." 
Each person is going to be different, but this is what I've found helps me to make the sacrament a more meaningful experience in my life.:
1.  I went out and bought a small spiral-bound notebook that I take every week with me to church.  In it I record the impressions and feelings I have during the sacrament.  I always write down quotes and thoughts that stand out to me during that meeting's talks.  Each Sunday night, I usually review, ponder, and study more of what I wrote down that day.  It had really helped to tune in and focus more.

2.  I try (again I say try-I'm not perfect) to prepare myself for the sacrament by repenting of all my mistakes during the week, daily, as they happen.  I recently read a comment on a BofM365's Instagram post that said something to the effect of:  "Praying frequently changes our Sunday sacrament experience.  Instead of the sacrament being a time of wracking our memory for what we did wrong that week and then pleading for forgiveness, it becomes a sweet time of gratitude and thanksgiving since we've already asked for forgiveness daily in our prayers.  It makes our whole sacrament experience that much more sweet."  This really works.  If I prepare this way, my mind and heart are more in tune to the Spirit.  
3.  No Phones! ---- In May of this year, Elder Ballard gave a CES fireside.  In his address he asked us to not check our phones during sacrament meeting. "Surely, during those few minutes you can focus on the Atonement of the Savior as you seek the Spirit of the Lord to bless you for the coming week. And consider putting your smartphone or your tablet in airplane mode for the entire Sunday block. You will still have your scriptures, general conference talks, hymnbook, and manuals, but you will not be distracted by incoming text messages or push notifications."
4. The last thing I've changed is my view.  After reading and studying the letter from my stake presidency, I've come to realize that the sacrament is a sacred ordinance, just like the sacred ordinances in the temple.  I can go to the temple to receive revelation, but I can also receive revelation each week during the sacrament.  (Why did it take me 36 years to realize this?)  When I prepare myself and treat the sacrament like I do an endowment session in the temple,  I leave feeling powerful and renewed.

"The more we ponder the significance of the sacrament, the more sacred and meaningful it becomes to us."
"May each of us come to sacrament meeting prepared to have 'a truly spiritual experience, a holy communion, a renewal for [our] soul.'"

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