Most every branch of Christianity has some sort of “sacrament.” Regularly repeated ceremonies that are meant to keep us in constant reminder of God, our dependence on Him, and our commitment to Him.
This idea of repeated ceremony is not unique to Christianity either. Confucius strongly believed in the worthiness of proper rituals, the Buddha advocated for consistent meditative practices, and Hinduism promotes regular yoga practice.
Even outside of any religious or ideological context, it has long been observed that “practice makes perfect,” and that education is most effective with regular repetition. I’d like to examine what insights the scriptures have to offer for these regularly repeated sacraments. What benefit do we derive from them? How can we approach them in a way that is best for our soul? Did God put this need for constant reminding within us, or is it simply a part of our fallen state?
1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Acts 2:42, Acts 20:7
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus took bread, brake it, and said, Take, this is my body, this do in remembrance of me...
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he describes that he had “received of the Lord,” and what he had received he now passed on to them. And just what was it that he had received? The sacrament and the testament associated with it. What is interesting about this assertion is that Paul was not actually present when Jesus gave this sacrament. He was not a follower of Jesus at that time, nor would be until after Jesus’s death.
Now Paul did have a direct experience with the Savior though. He heard his voice and received a charge from him while traveling to Damascus. But this is not the experience Paul points to as having been his moment of “receiving the Lord.” He points instead to the formal sacrament ceremony, which ceremony he had evidently held among the saints in Corinth.
As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come
And they continued steadfastly in breaking of bread, and in prayers
And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread
Nor did Paul share the sacrament with others only once. As we know, the pattern was to meet together often and break bread and drink wine, even on a weekly basis. And so it is a regularly reoccurring practice that Paul is pointing to as the roots of his discipleship.
This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
I have also had singular moments of spiritual intensity in my discipleship. But those brief, powerful moments do not encompass my entire life. Perhaps they were enough to keep me faithful in the moment that they occurred, but if they were all that I had, eventually the spiritual fervor would grow stale and I would stray.
What keeps me grounded through the years is regular, simple reaffirmations, such as are found in the sacrament. It would seem that Paul felt the same. That was the whole idea behind the sacrament, in fact. As Jesus gave it to his disciples, he specifically instructed that this was something to be done repeatedly, in order to maintain a continual remembrance of him.
2 Timothy 1:16, 2 Corinthians 7:13
The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain:
Therefore we were comforted in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all.
The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me
Therefore we were comforted in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all
There are three people that live in my home, and I have learned how the mood of one can quickly affect the mood of all! Fortunately, it does not have to be that if one person is having a bad day that everyone else is dragged down. Instead it can be that if one person is having a good day that they lift everyone else up. It takes a little conscious effort to push the flow in a positive way, but each of us knows that this is our duty to do.
In other words we know that we must use our peaceful tranquility to refresh one another. When my wife was struggling through her first trimester my son and I tried to give her rest and peace. When I was struggling with a project at work my wife and son tried to make home a joyful respite. When our son was overwhelmed with fears of death my wife and I tried to soothe him with pledges of eternal love.
Even outside of the home I have a friend that has been through many of the same trials that I have. When I was feeling weighed down and hopeless he listened to my every fear and encouraged me. Later when it was his turn to feel broken I did the same for him.
As disciples, when we are in a good place we must bolster up those that are not. Then, we need to let them do the same for us later. We refresh each other, we save each other, we come to God together.
Isaiah 53:6, Deuteronomy 6:6, 8-9, 2 Peter 1:12 (NLT)
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
Therefore, I will always remind you about these things—even though you already know them and are standing firm in the truth you have been taught.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way
I do believe that when most of us make a commitment, we really do intend to hold fast to it. People do not get married intending for it to end in divorce, or sign a contract intending to breach it, or enter baptism intending to return to their old sins. And yet they do. All the time. We are a wayward flock and always have been.
There is a very simple reason for this behavior. We are temporal beings constrained by time. Though we have the memory of the past and the hope of the future, we can only ever live in the present. Memories and hopes can influence us, but the immediacy of now will often drown them out. Thus we may have felt very strongly back when we made marriage vows, signed contracts, and entered baptism; but the weight of those moments do not last forever. Our every vow comes with an expiration date.
If you have noticed this tendency to wander, know that it is not a failing in you as an individual. It is a universal, and unavoidable, failing of the entire human race. We may not forget what we have promised, but we do forget the feelings we held when we made them.
And these word shall be bound for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house.
Therefore, I will always remind you about these things
God is well aware of this forgetful nature in us, and as such has always taught his people to regularly refresh their vows. He instructed the Israelites to bind the words of the laws on their hands, in little boxes on their foreheads, and on the posts of their doors. He had them do this so that they would see constant reminders of what they had been called to. The disciples of Jesus were given the Sacrament, and told to come together oft to repeat that commitment ceremony.
Yes, our hearts stray, but we can choose every day to recommit them. Yes, our vows come with expiration dates, but we can extend them with new ones. When I keep the commandments today, it is not because of a commitment I made once years ago, it is because of the one I made last Sunday when I partook of the sacrament, and this morning when I said my prayers. We are a forgetful race, but we can remind ourselves.
Psalm 143:8 (GNT), Lamentations 3:21-23 (NLT)
Remind me each morning of your constant love, for I put my trust in you. My prayers go up to you; show me the way I should go.
Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Remind me each morning of your constant love
We have just discussed our need to regularly recommit ourselves to God. We often forget the feelings of the past, and thus need to establish new connections to replace those which have grown stale.
Similarly, we also need to regularly be reminded of God’s love for us. Suppose He were to one time say to us “I love you, and I will love you forever,” and then never again profess His devotion to us. Though those one-time words should theoretically suffice, they never would. A single proclamation for eternity grows hollow within us over time. That is just our nature. What we need is a constant reaffirming of just how much we mean to Him.
The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Ours is a transitory existence. We eat, but later again we hunger. We sleep, but later again we are fatigued. God professes His love, but later again we are doubtful. As a kind and patient parent, God does not despise our forgetfulness. He reminds of it us over and over, the same as we do to our own children. Each morning He is ready to tell us that He is just as committed to us as He was the day before. We feel His renewed pledge, and it rejuvenates to remake our own pledges as well.
This study has been an excellent grounding experience for me. I have, at times, made the mistake of reaching for the great and monumental things at the expense of the daily essentials. This study helped me to verbalize the folly I always felt in that.
Since I was a small boy I have had daily and weekly rituals, such as reading the scriptures, praying, and partaking of the sacrament. Usually I did not come to them with real meaning, though, I came only to check them off a list. It was like I came to a feast, but only to watch others eat.
Within the last two years I have made a real effort to start feasting for myself. It is amazing to me how much richness I was missing out on, how much strength comes from these little, regular observances. Having had such an awakening, I decided to do a study on why these small moments matter so much. Here are three key principles that I found.
Discipleship is Built on Regular Consistency
We always love to hear stories of monumental moments. Things like a heavenly vision that turned a sinner into a saint, or a noble stand that defeated every enemy, or a single sacrifice that made up for all wrongs.
We wish to have these moments in our lives. Some quick, intense fix that will forever turn us into the people we wish to be. A moment of such magnitude that its ripples course through us all the rest of our lives.
It’s a nice thought, but that simply isn’t how it works. Life does not come with a “flip of the light-switch” solution. Life was not given to us as a single day, but as thousands. Our victories are not meant to be measured as one great rock, then, but as thousands of small stones, accumulated one at a time, and carefully stacked into a great whole.
Isaiah 28:10- For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little
Alma 37:6- Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass
Sacraments Refresh the Spirit
Aristotle observed that “we are what we repeatedly do.” I wish to be a disciple of Christ, and so I must consistently follow His example.
But there is to every regular practice a resistance. Some days discipleship comes easily, it feels like the most natural and fitting thing to do. But many days it feels like it doesn’t fit me at all, like I’m trying to wear a coat that is too big. The natural inclination is to say “maybe tomorrow, then, but not today.” We might even reason to ourselves that forced discipleship isn’t even discipleship at all, so why bother? The Lord loves a “cheerful giver,” not a begrudging one, right?
But that is the beauty of the sacrament, and prayer, and scripture study. They are designed to take the crufty heart and breath new life into it. Come lethargic, come worn out, come feeling incomplete and unworthy, all are welcome. But do, at least, come willing to let the light in.
Romans 12:2- And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Jeremiah 31:25 (BSB)- For I will refresh the weary soul and replenish all who are weak.
God Sends Us Reminders
Sometimes we forget that God is fighting fiercely for us. At least I know that I do. I tell myself that I darn well better be consistent in my spiritual exercises, otherwise I’ll lose myself and no one will check up on me. I suppose if we’re only talking about other mortals, then there might be some truth to that. I don’t have anyone calling me up and asking “Did you say your morning prayer today? Did you lay your sins on the altar when taking the sacrament? Do you feel spiritually awake right now?”
And sometimes I would have liked to have had someone to call me out, because I didn’t have good answers to those questions and I needed someone to awaken my soul. But then, as I think about it, each one of those times someone did come knocking.
Because, you see, every time I miss a prayer, there was a person left waiting at the table who felt my absence just as much I feel His. There is someone who knows that just as much as I need to recommit to Him, I also need to feel again His commitment to me. There is someone who is asking me every day to let Him love me. And He doesn’t stop until at last I do open the door and I weep for having ever shut Him out.
Revelation 3:20- Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.