Both Sister Marriott and Elder Lawrence used their talks to emphasize the sacrament as an occasion to receive personalized spiritual guidance. Sister Marriott, who calls the sacrament “the heart of the Sabbath,” invites listeners to follow sincere repentance of their sins during the sacrament with the sincere question, “Is there more?” She testifies that the Spirit responds to such sincere questions with clear direction. Similarly, Elder Lawrence, in a talk focused on the personalized counsel the Spirit can give, points to the sacrament as “a perfect time to ask, ‘What lack I yet?'” These talks thus invite Latter-day Saints to make Eucharistic worship the heart of our Sabbath observance.
Admittedly, “Eucharistic worship” isn’t a phrase we as LDS are accustomed to hearing. Neither Sister Marriott nor Elder Lawrence used it in their talks. Nevertheless, if the sacrament is indeed the heart of the Sabbath, then such worship becomes vital to making the Sabbath a delight, as we have been called to do. The question, then, is what Eucharistic worship looks like from an LDS perspective. These talks begin to answer that question.
Sister Marriott opens the door by speaking of worship as beginning “when our hearts are right before the Father and the Son,” and by making the Holy Spirit central to that process of becoming right, she enlists all members of the Godhead in a unified process.
Instead of the Catholic mystery of transubstantiation (a beautiful idea, to be sure), according to which Jesus’ body and blood become literally present in the bread and wine, the LDS sacrament prayers, when they say that those who partake “may have His Spirit to be with them,” promise a spiritual presence that is, because we accept the Spirit as a full member of the Godhead, no less divine than if we were really eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood. The sacrament, that is, goes beyond symbolism and enables unmediated communion with the divine.
Both Sister Marriott and Elder Lawrence make the attainment of such communion central to our participation in the sacrament. Recognizing the sacrament as an opportunity to receive direct, personalized spiritual counsel means activating the promise of the sacrament prayers even as they’re being spoken. Such spiritual guidance aims to lead us into more perfect harmony with the Father and the Son. When, as Sister Marriott says, we offer the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, “our self-willed hearts begin to crack and break in gratitude. Then we reach for Him, yearning to yoke ourselves to the Only Begotten Son of God.”
The purpose of the sacrament, in other words, is worship made possible through presence. Our Spirit-aided efforts at repentance bring us into the presence of the Son, whom we then worship in grateful adoration, and then in our renewed commitment to carrying out his work, which is also the Father’s work. With the Spirit as our pathway in, we enter into communion with the Godhead as a whole.
Elder Lawrence concludes his talk with a similar invocation of presence, quoting Spencer W. Kimball:
I have learned that where there is a prayerful heart, a hungering after righteousness, a forsaking of sins, and obedience to the commandments of God, the Lord pours out more and more light until there is finally power to pierce the heavenly veil. A person of such righteousness has the priceless promise that one day he shall see the Lord’s face and know that He is.
Elder Lawrence adds his witness to the idea that our path to this experience of presence runs through the Spirit: “It is my prayer that this ultimate experience can be ours someday, as we allow the Holy Ghost to lead us home.” Again, the sacrament affords the perfect setting for this process to do its work. The promise of spiritual presence, made real in the moment by our acts of devotion and desires to repent, lead us back home into the presence of Jesus.
The Spirit’s guidance can take many forms, as Elder Lawrence spends the bulk of his talk pointing out. No Sabbath checklist can substitute adequately for this personalized guidance, which can lead those who seek it into diverse forms of worship. Here Paul’s counsel to the church in Corinth becomes apt. Paul precedes his famous discourse on spiritual gifts with talk of Eucharistic unity:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor. 10:16-17, NRSV)
The very act of eating and drinking should unite us (although we have long since abandoned the communal chalice), but if that is not enough, when the promised Spirit comes endowing us with its diverse gifts, we must remember Paul’s call to unifying love:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7, NRSV)
Our communion and worship thus need to include loving recognition that other people who go about their sacramental participation differently than we do may, for all that, be worshiping the same Lord in the same Spirit as we are also striving to do. Our communion with God needs to ground our communion with each other. Our body of worshipers needs to become the real presence of Jesus’ body on earth. Eucharistic worship calls us to become the very sacrament we adore.
May we therefore follow Sister Marriott’s invitation to treat the sacrament as the heart of our Sabbath observance by using it as an occasion for the Spirit to lead us worshipfully into the divine presence, so that we can share that presence abundantly with each other as we pass the trays down the aisle, united in serving each other with the body and blood of our Lord.