In the first two posts in this short series I have tried to reflect on how the sacrament signifies ways of being in the world. In fact, all of these posts have really been an attempt to answer this question: ‘what does it mean to live our lives through the sacrament?’ In the first post, I suggested that the sacrament reveals Christ in those with whom we worship. In the second post, I tried to discuss how the sacrament embodies a model of fellowship and service. In this, the third and final post, I argue that the sacrament speaks to how we should consecrate. I want to explore the possibility that framing the sacrament as an Aaronic priesthood responsibility may say something about how we should care for the temporal needs of the saints.
To partake of the sacrament is to come together and fellowship under the direction of the Bishop, who is also the president of the priests quorum in the Aaronic priesthood. As president of that priesthood he is responsible for, what the D&C calls, the temporal concerns of the church. That he is acting in that specific role during the sacrament is demonstrated by his responsibility to ensure that (a) the ordinance, as carried out by other members of the Aaronic priesthood, is performed in the proper order and (b) that the bread and water are shared with all.
Two features of the modern practice seem significant: after the bread and water are blessed they are distributed to all members of the community equally and the bread, even today, is always given as a gift to the ward to share together. The water too, while provided on tap, would have been given as a gift as well in times past. But what would happen if the gift changed? For example, what would happen if, instead of a few slices of bread, someone brought a loaf. Would that change feature 1? My guess is that it would not. It would still be blessed and given equally to all. What if, instead of a loaf, someone brought a meal? Under the direction of the Bishop as president of the Aaronic priesthood, I believe it would be shared equally with all. While the gift may change, how it is distributed does not?
President George Q. Cannon recalled: “In our Church, numerous instances have occurred where . . . bread and water have been partaken of as a meal, and not, as is usual when the Sacrament is passed in our general meetings, in the shape of small pieces of bread and a little sip of water. . . . It seems from this that in partaking of this ordinance as a meal they satisfied their appetites—that is, they ate and drank until they were filled. This would be the proper manner to administer this ordinance now if circumstances permitted”
This type of sacramental feast was practised in some New Testament communities as well. Like Cannon’s description, the early Christian sacrament was not just a little bit of bread and wine but rather it was a meal which seems to have been furnished by what the members of the church could bring. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, chides the church for failing to live the spirit of the sacrament because they allowed class divisions within their community to govern their feasting practices. Those of higher social status appear to be feasting in a way which shows contempt toward those who have nothing. Paul’s rebuke suggests that the more powerful are feasting together before the poor/slaves arrive (i.e., at sundown), and are therefore failing to share the meal together, undermining one of the central purposes of this ritual act (cf. Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body).
In this reading, the sacramental meal reflects the willingness of this body of worshipers to overcome their social heterogeneity by coming together and sharing their gifts with each other. To use restoration language, the sacramental meal, under the direction of the Bishop, embodies the act of consecration to the community.
‘What does it mean to live our lives through the sacrament?’ One possible answer is that it enacts a society based on consecration; sharing the sacrament affirms a commitment to a world where, at the very least, our daily bread is shared with all.
1. Of course, this metaphor raises some questions about the place of the excommunicated in sacrament and so while this could be a useful way of thinking about this ordinance I also recognise it has limits.