JKC continues his series
In the last three parts (Part I, Part II, Part III), I have suggested that although we as latter day saints are accustomed to thinking of the Kirtland endowment, if at all, as an incomplete chapter of our history that was later superseded by the endowment ceremony administered in the Nauvoo temple, another way of looking at the endowment liturgy could be to see it as a way to organize and systematize the principles that were revealed first in Kirtland, and provide an ritual through which saints that were not present at the Kirtland endowment could symbolically participate in the same spiritual gifts, blessings, and powers by symbolically becoming sanctified, symbolically receiving the divine law, and symbolically receiving God’s presence.
In this part I finally get into the discussion of how all this relates to the Eucharist. Sorry it took so long to lay the groundwork!
IV: From memory into reality: The Endowment and the Eucharist.
As I have explained, one way to see the endowment liturgy is as looking back, at least implicitly, to the Kirtland endowment. In this way, it might perform a similar sort of function with respect to the Kirtland endowment that the Eucharist performs with respect to the last supper. I’ll explain this comparison further, but essentially, I see parallels in that both ordinances look back to a past event where the saints experienced God’s presence, symbolically bring those that participate into that presence, and create a community of saints across time and space that share in that presence.
Without getting too bogged down in the complicated issues of competing Eucharistic theologies, I think it is fair to say that most christians of any denomination agree that we receive the presence of Christ in some form, in the Eucharist. Whether that presence is physical, as the emblems literally, but invisibly, transform into Jesus’s body, as the Catholics hold, whether he becomes truly present in the emblems without them physically changing, as Luther held, or whether the emblems are a mere symbol of Jesus’s body that helps us access Jesus’ spiritual presence, as Calvin held, the point is, by partaking of the consecrated emblems of bread and wine (or, in our case, these days, water), I think all agree that we participate in the holy meal and thus receive Jesus’ presence in some form, as if we were there in his presence at the last supper with the apostles. The Eucharist thus transcends the distances of time and space to create a symbolic communion of saints across the ages as we all commune in the holy meal, all receiving Jesus’s presence.
Now, the LDS Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is of course a bit different from the Eucharist as celebrated in many other christian churches, because our prayers are taken from the Book of Mormon rather than from the tradition that developed out of the events recounted in the gospels. Therefore, the most obvious difference between the LDS sacrament and the Eucharist of other denominations is that the immediate foundational event for our Sacrament prayers is not the pre-crucifixion last supper, but the post-resurrection sacramental meal with the descendants of Lehi, recorded in 3 Nephi, chapter 18. But despite this difference, I think the point still holds: through partaking of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we are promised that we may spiritually receive Jesus’ presence–“that [we] may have his spirit to be with [us]”–and I venture to suggest that when we receive his presence through this ordinance, administered by the authority of the holy priesthood, we receive his presence in a way that is just as real and significant as if we were there eating and drinking in the presence of the resurrected Jesus with the Nephite disciples, or of the mortal Jesus with the apostles in the upper room.
The sacrament thus preserves the memory of Jesus’ body and blood, but it does more than that; it makes us not just observers of his body and blood, but participants in the communion of his body and blood. Jesus asks his disciples to not just contemplate his body and blood, but to “eat in remembrance” of his body and blood. (3 Nephi 18: 7, 11) In one sense, it’s a bit strange, because we are being asked to remember an event that we ourselves did not actually experience. I think perhaps the remembrance that is asked of us involves more than just memory. In this context, the word remember fascinates me. Of course, we have no idea what words Jesus used in whatever language it was he spoke when he gave the sacramental meal to the Nephite disciples, so I don’t want to push this idea too hard, but English is as close as we get to original languages in the Book of Mormon, and at least in English, the word remember is not just to recall something; it is, in at least one etymological sense, the opposite of the word dismember. So it means, not just to mentally recall something, but to reconstitute it, to put it back together, to reconstruct it, to re-incorporate it, to re-embody it. This meaning of the word remember is particularly poignant in the context of the disciples being shown a physically resurrected body. The sacrament symbolically re-embodies Jesus and brings us into his presence.
And when we partake of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we also participate in his body, that is, we symbolically become part of his body. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12–after discussing the Eucharist in the previous chapter–“Now ye are the body of Christ.” (1 Cor. 12: 27). We take his body symbolically, into us, as we are taken, symbolically, into his body. Thus we begin symbolically to be in him, and he in us, as he is in the father and the father is in him. (Compare John 17:11 with 3 Nephi 11:27 and John 14:11). And because his body — his church — encompasses all saints in all ages, the Sacrament transcends the distances of time and space to make us participants in that communion just as if we were there ourselves eating and drinking with him alongside the Nephite disciples.
In fact, the August 1830 revelation on the sacrament (what is now section 27) illustrates this vision of the Sacrament as creating a communion of saints across the ages, transcending distances of time and space. After explaining first that the physical emblems themselves are not important in comparison to the spiritual reality that they represent, the voice of the Lord then goes on to present a vision of the sacrament as a meal shared between him and Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery: “marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 27:5). But this intimate meal quickly becomes an ever-expanding communion as the voice of the Lord adds additional participants from all ages of time: first Moroni, then Elias, then John, the baptist, Elijah, Joseph, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, and Adam, Peter, James, and John, and finally “all those whom my Father hath given me out of the world.” (Doctrine and Covenants 27:5-14). Maybe this is only a prophecy of some future millennial sacramental meal, but maybe it is both that, and a reflection of the fact that every time we partake of the sacrament, we are symbolically brought into Jesus’ presence — a presence that we share alongside all saints who have been brought into that presence: the eternal communion of the saints in all the ages.
I’ve come to believe that the perhaps endowment liturgy does a similar thing with the Kirtland endowment. When in the initiatory ordinances we become symbolically sanctified and clean, prepared to receive God’s law and his presence, we don’t just recall the fact that the church was washed and became sanctified in Kirtland, we symbolically re-member that event and become participants in it , just as if we had been there ourselves. And when we take on solemn obligations to live principles of the law we symbolically receive God’s sanctifying law, just as if we had been among those early saints in Kirtland or in Zion that were given the divine law by revelation. And when at the end of the endowment liturgy, we are symbolically admitted into the Lord’s presence, we are re-membering the moment when Jesus accepted the temple as his house, so we spiritually enjoy his presence just as if we had been there ourselves when his presence filled the temple as a mighty rushing wind.
So, like the Sacrament, the endowment makes God’s presence not just a memory, but a symbolically and spiritually re-membered reality, and when we receive it, it makes us members of an eternal company of endowed saints, across the ages, transcending distances of time, space, and even mortality.
 In this discussion I am using both the term Eucharist and the term Sacrament (or Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper). While it may seem that I use them interchangeably (and I think they basically are), for precision’s sake I will use Eucharist here to refer generally to the communion practiced by most Christians, while I use Sacrament specifically to refer to the LDS ordinance of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
 There are, of course additional aspects to both ordinances that I’m not really getting into here. Covenant-making is a huge part of the endowment, and witnessing willingness to do what he have covenanted or will covenant to do is a huge part of the Sacrament (we usually express this as “renewal” of covenants, but I think it is slightly more than that). Kingship or Queenship is an important piece of the endowment. By not discussing those aspects here, I’m not suggesting that they don’t play an important role; they’re just beyond the scope of this discussion. I thought I would focus on some of the perhaps less often discussed aspects of these ordinances.
 The Sacrament prayers used in the LDS church come from the “Articles and Covenants,” which, in it’s current form, is Section 20. Without getting too bogged down in the history, what is now section 20 was in its early drafts, put together by Oliver Cowdery, likely in obedience to the revelation now codified as section 18, which directed him to “build up my church” and directed him specifically to rely on the Book of Mormon in doing so. (Doctrine and Covenants 18:2-5.) It is fairly obvious from comparing Moroni 4 and 5 to section 20 that in carrying out this responsibility, Oliver adopted the prayers recorded by Moroni to be the Sacrament prayers that the restored church would use. Further, a close reading of Jesus’ words in 3 Nephi 18, compared with the sacramental prayers recorded in Moroni 4 and 5 shows, I think, that the Nephite disciples developed the sacramental liturgy that Moroni records directly out of the events that were recorded in 3 Nephi 18, similar to the way that the Eucharist, as spoken of by Paul and other early christian writers, was developed out of the events of the last supper that would later be described when the gospels were written. This is why I think we can say that our Sacrament prayers trace directly back to Jesus’ visit to the Nephites recorded in 3 Nephi 18. But I don’t think it is wrong to say that the Sacrament looks back to the last supper; it’s just that I think it looks back directly to the sacrament with the Nephite disciples, and indirectly, to the last supper.
 Don’t misunderstand. I am well aware that the church rejects transubstantiation of the sacramental emblems, and by suggesting that the Sacrament re-embodies Jesus in some sense, I am not challenging that doctrine; but if we throw out the bathwater of literal transubstantiation, let’s not discard with it the idea that Jesus’ presence, whether that presence is “merely” spiritual or not, is a real and important feature of the Sacrament. I don’t believe there is anything in our doctrine inconsistent with the idea that Jesus is present in the sacrament in some real, though perhaps non-physical, sense. Thus, even if it is “only” symbolic, the sacrament does symbolically re-embody Jesus’ body and blood in the sacramental emblems. And I suggest that the spiritual presence that the sacrament embodies is far more important, anyway–and no less real–than the physical substance of the emblems themselves (the emblems are just the “mechanics” of the sacrament, to paraphrase President McKay). I believe this is consistent with the August 1830 revelation that permits us to use water rather than wine in the Sacrament: “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins.” (Doctrine & Covenants 27:2.) In other words, while we pretty clearly don’t believe that the emblems take on the physical nature of human flesh, that really doesn’t matter much, because the physical substance of the emblems is not the point. But I think we do believe that they become Jesus’ body and blood, for all spiritually significant purposes, while they are used in the context of the ordinance. This is, I think, why Jesus speaks of the Sacrament in seemingly literal terms as “my flesh and blood,” not only in the gospels but also in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 18:28-30).