Endowment and Eucharist V

JKC concludes his guest series.

Finally, the conclusion of my series about how the endowment and the eucharist perform similar functions. (For the rest of the series, see Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.) I’ll apologize in advance for getting a little personal in this one. Thanks for indulging me!

V: Conclusion

I’ve sketched out a particular perspective on the endowment and the sacrament in the previous post. This is not how I understood the endowment when I first experienced it as a 19 year old about to leave for a mission. So what changed? What caused me to begin to see the new perspective on the endowment that I have described here was an experience I had when I visited Kirtland with my family in 2013.

I had been to Kirtland before, but it had been several years. When we visited the temple that time, we had a guide, named Bill from the Community of Christ. I never learned his last name, but he was wonderful. In previous visits, the guides had been great, well informed, and knowledgeable, able to answer almost any question about the history of the temple, though they did not say much about the spiritual aspect of the temple other than in the professional, detached, objective voice of a historian. Bill was different. He was as knowledgeable or more than any guide I’ve ever had, but what stood out about Bill was that he also bore a powerful personal testimony of the reality of the restoration of priesthood keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the temple, and of the personal presence of Jesus in the temple. The spirit bore witness to me that his witness was true and, to be candid, that witness nudged me to look past the differences between “Brighamites” and “Josephites” that I had sometimes been guilty of in the past, to more fully appreciate that this was a holy place — that it was holy as the shared legacy of our two churches, but also that it was holy to me personally as an heir of that legacy. That spiritual witness gave me a much greater appreciation for the Kirtland temple and instilled in me a desire to repent of having taken it lightly in the past, and a resolution to take the Kirtland endowment more seriously as an object of study and contemplation.

After that experience in the temple, as I began to ponder more on the Kirtland endowment, and to study the Kirtland revelations more closely, I began to see the essential principles of the endowment liturgy reflected in the Kirtland revelations — not organized the same way as they would later be organized in the endowment liturgy, but all there in some recognizable form. I began to develop this new perspective on the Kirtland endowment as the event that gives meaning to the endowment liturgy, and I began to see my own endowment as a way for me to be a part of that endowment of power from on high that was poured out upon the saints in the Kirtland temple in the spring of 1836 (or, perhaps, throughout the 1830’s, culminating in the spring of 1836). That explains, in part, the overwhelming witness of the spirit to me that Kirtland was a place that was holy to me, personally.

And isn’t that the way that revelation works? For me it is, anyway. “Sudden strokes of ideas” that come as “pure intelligence”[1] without apology or explanation, then leave us to puzzle out with our feeble minds what those ideas actually mean and how that knowledge fits into our lives. We can receive pure intelligence, through personal revelation, but to understand what it means, we only do the best we can. Moses wished that all the Lord’s people would be prophets, but in reality, I think we are all simultaneously both prophets and “Yankee guessers,” to paraphrase Brother Brigham. To me, the revelation in that moment, the spiritual witness, was that the Kirtland temple was a holy place, not something to be dismissed or forgotten. The way I make sense of that has brought me to this perspective on the endowment, but this perspective is only my own guessing at making sense of the revelation; I don’t claim it as the revelation itself.

The perspective on the endowment that I have sketched out here is not, of course, the only valid or useful perspective on the temple (or the Sacrament, for that matter). There are things in the Kirtland revelations that do not have apparent parallels in the endowment liturgy, and there are things in the endowment liturgy that have no apparent antecedent in the Kirtland endowment. I am not saying that there is a one-to-one correspondence between the Kirtland endowment and the post-Nauvoo endowment liturgy, I am saying only that the basic, essential principles of the endowment did not appear out of thin air when the Nauvoo endowment liturgy began to be administered; rather, they were revealed in Kirtland one piece at a time and were later organized and systematized into the liturgy that was developed in Nauvoo.

And I don’t mean to suggest by any means that this is the only way to understand the endowment liturgy, or that it explains everything in the endowment liturgy (it doesn’t). But it is the way of looking at the endowment that makes the most sense, to me, of the essential principles of the endowment. There are, of course, differences between the details of the Kirtland endowment and the details of the post-Nauvoo endowment. But I don’t think that means that the one does not draw meaning from the other. The sacrament prayers of the Nephites are, of course, different from the words of Jesus in the upper room, if the gospels are to be believed, but that does not mean that the sacrament does not look back ultimately to the last supper and draw meaning from it.

And also, to say that the endowment liturgy points back to the Kirtland endowment is not to exclude the possibility that the Kirtland endowment itself points to some other event, either more ancient yet, or yet to come, or both, just as I think it would be fair to say that although the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper points directly to the sacramental meal with the Nephite disciples, it also points at least indirectly both to the last supper, as well as to a future millennial sacramental meal.

This way, the endowment and the sacrament both serve to point us to a reality that is bigger than the distance of time and space, big enough to hold all the eternal communion of the saints, but yet still accessible at particular points in mortality. The Mountain of the Lord’s House, we might say, has a foundation base as big as the expanse of all eternity, but a summit so narrow and pointed that it pierces like a needle through the veil of mortality into the present and gives us a glimpse of that eternal reality, more real than what we see and feel and think is real in this life.[2]

This perspective has given me a greater appreciation both for our contemporary endowment liturgy and for the Kirtland part of our history. In that sense, it has made my own temple worship more meaningful, and at the same time is has also turned my heart to my own spiritual (and also literal) fathers and mothers who were there and participated in that pentecostal event. I rejoice to be part of that company of saints, along with the “thousands and tens of thousands” that Jesus spoke of in vision to Joseph Smith, that can participate in that event through all ages, across the distances of time and space. And for that, Hosanna to God and the Lamb.

[1] Joseph Smith, Address to the Twelve Apostles, June 27, 1844, quoted in History, 1838-1856, volume C-1 Addenda, p. 9, available at The Joseph Smith Papers, http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/?target=X74F05DAE-6ECF-4E1A-B8B5-B92F605E90FD.

[2] I stole that image, of course, from Tolkien. See The Ainulindale, The Silmarillion (“And amid all the splendours of the World, its vast halls and spaces, and its wheeling fires, Ilúvatar chose a place for their habitation in the Deeps of Time and in the midst of the innumerable stars. And this habitation might seem a little thing to those who consider only the majesty of the Ainur, and not their terrible sharpness; as who should take the whole field of Arda for the foundation of a pillar and so raise it until the cone of its summit were more bitter than a needle; or who consider only the immeasurable vastness of the World, which still the Ainur are shaping, and not the minute precision to which they shape all things therein.”)

Comments

  1. Clark Goble says:

    I think your emphasis on endowment as presence is very important and sadly too neglected. Especially considering that even in our endowment the narration is all about overcoming the fall and returning to presence. We can too easily miss the forest for all the trees at times.

  2. Clark, I agree. The beginning of the endowment narrative gives a sort of “road map” for what will follow, in it is explicitly stated that the whole purpose of what is about to come is to enable Adam and Eve to overcome the fall and regain God’s presence. But it’s easy to lose that in the details sometimes. We tend not to focus much on the presence of Jesus as the purpose of the sacrament (though, as I explained in previous posts, I think it is at least arguably very much a part of our sacrament), but in other Christian traditions, the Eucharistic presence is a very big deal, and in at least some traditions, the whole purpose of the Eucharist is to enable us to bask in God’s presence. So I think a focus on the presence of God as the goal and summit of the endowment helps us to see how we and our brothers and sisters in other traditions are really seeking the same thing, in some sense. I suppose some would argue that this is evidence of the apostasy; that with the loss of the endowment, the Eucharist took it’s place as the main sacramental point of access to God’s presence. I don’t know that I would go that far.