In the Sunday Morning conference session, Elder Peter Meurs  spoke about worshiping God through the sacrament. (Watch his talk here.) This is a theme that church leaders have been hitting pretty hard for over the past year.
A year ago, in October 2105, there were at least three conference talks that hit this theme. Sister Marriot and Elder Lawrence both spoke about the sacrament as the “heart of the sabbath,” in Sister Marriot’s words, and how personal repentance through the sacrament—asking the Lord as we participate in the sacrament what else he would have us do to change and become who he wants us to be—is one of the highest forms of worship.  Elder Costa in that same conference spoke about the many things that may be suggested by the sacramental commitment to “always remember him,” and suggested ways to do this by vividly picturing scenes from Jesus’ life during the sacrament as another facet to worship through the sacrament.
Similarly, Elder Bednar spoke of the sacrament in April this year as one of three ordinances through which the “power of godliness is made manifest” through the reception of the Holy Ghost and the accompanying remission of sins.
Being Made Holy
Elder Meurs describes the sacrament as “an ordinance that can help make us holy.” This description is rich with spiritual meaning.
Strictly speaking, it is the emblems of the sacrament, not us, that are explicitly “sanctif[ied]” in the sacrament prayers. (To sanctify means to make holy.) But as Elder Meurs points out near the end of his talk, quoting Elder Bednar, the promise of the sacrament is the promise of the constant presence of the Spirit, which sanctifies those who receive it. By partaking of the sacrament, we formalize our commitment to do that which will cause us to continue to receive the Spirit, and by receiving the Spirit, we are made holy.
So just as the bread and water are sanctified that they may spiritually become the body and blood of Christ, as we partake of those blessed emblems, we receive the spirit and thus we also become sanctified that we may spiritually become the body of Christ. We take his body into our own bodies, as we are taken into his body.
Elder Meurs is careful to point out, quoting Elder Bednar’s talk last April, that “[t]he act of partaking of the sacrament, in and of itself, does not remit sins.” Otherwise, Mormon and Paul would join together and rebuke us for putting trust in dead works. “But,” continues Elder Meurs, still quoting Elder Bednar, “as we prepare conscientiously and participate in this holy ordinance with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then the promise is that we may always have the Spirit of the Lord to be with us. And by the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost as our constant companion, we can always retain a remission of our sins.”
This is an interesting interplay of the power of ordinances vs. the power of faith—a question that has divided the Christian world since at least the protestant reformation.
Like good Catholics, we Mormons believe that sacraments or ordinances are essential, that they are not merely symbolic, but that they convey real spiritual power, that they must be performed by someone with authority traceable back to Jesus, and that they unlock the power of grace in our lives. Elder Bednar’s emphasis of the ordinances of the priesthood as the thing that manifests the “power of godliness” (he made this point both in his talk on the sacrament last conference as well as in his talk this conference) goes along with this line of thinking.
But like good Protestants, we believe that without faith on the part of the participant, ordinances are useless, that trusting to the act of receiving an ordinance “in and of itself” is putting trust in dead works, and that regardless of how important ordinances are, it is not the ordinance that saves and sanctifies, but the Holy Spirit. Elder Bednar’s quoted statement that the act of the ordinance itself does not remit sins goes along with this line of thinking.
In my own experience, partaking of the sacrament really does unlock the power of grace in our lives, and I believe that there is a real spiritual power that comes from accessing God’s presence through this ordinance. There is a danger in my life, especially in the rush to get kids to church, and the effort to keep them quiet during the sacrament, that we get distracted from worship, let the sacrament become commonplace, rote, and that we go through the outward performance of eating and drinking without making it a form of personal, spiritually engaged worship. I appreciated Elder Meurs’ reminder to let it make us holy.
Suggestions for Deepening Worship Through the Sacrament
Elder Meurs makes five suggestions of things we can do to deepen our worship through the sacrament: Prepare in advance through repentance, arrive early, engage in worship by singing and contemplating the sacrament hymn, participate in the prayers, and remember Jesus while the emblems are distributed.
1. Prepare in Advance.
I’ve often heard talks that say we should repent during the sacrament—that as the emblems are blessed and passed, we should think of our spiritual progress during the preceding week, and pray for forgiveness as we commit to do better the following week.
But what I found interesting about Elder Meurs’ talk is that he suggests that we should repent in this way in advance—even the day before—and then dedicate the time while the sacrament is passed to remembering Jesus (on which, see below).
In discussing repentance, Elder Meurs starts by specifically reminding us that “the natural man is an enemy to God . . . and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19). This is a powerful approach to repentance. Repenting by acknowledging our “lost and fallen state” is different from mere self-improvement. Instead of thinking of ourselves as basically good people that just need to change our actions, we start with the premise that we “being evil, cannot do that which is good.” This shifts the focus from changing our behavior to changing our nature itself. And that forces us to rely wholly on Jesus because changing human nature is not something that can we can do. It comes only as an act of grace. If we repent this way, we don’t rely on our own merits—our own efforts to change our outward behavior. Instead, we are forced to confront the fact that have to “yield” to Christ and let him change us from the inside out.
This all might sound rather Calvinist, but if so, that’s only because the Book of Mormon hits those same notes. But while it emphasizes our inability, before being converted, to do good, the Book of Mormon nevertheless emphasizes the role of free will in the decision to repent and turn to Christ, so that he, by is grace, can make us able to do good.
When we engage in this kind of repentance, “our hearts become broken,” says Elder Meurs, and realizing our total dependence on our Savior, “we express gratitude for Christ’s Atonement, repent of our mistakes and shortcomings, and ask for the Father’s help in our continuing journey to become more like Him.”
2. Arrive Early.
Elder Meurs counsels us to get there early and sit reverently before the meeting begins.
I appreciate that in theory this is good advice. And thanks entirely to the efforts of my wife, we usually do get to church about 10 minutes early. But the idea that we can sit reverently and prepare is more often a dream than a reality, with three kids ages 3-8. Usually I’m breaking up fights, informing my son that he has to wear shoes in the chapel, dealing with the tantrum that information usually causes, etc. Maybe in another time of life.
3. Sing and Learn from the Sacrament Hymn.
Elder Meurs also suggests that we deepen our worship by participating in the Sarament Hymn and contemplating the doctrine that it teaches.
This is good counsel. While we may not always have the most talented singers, worship through music is still powerful. When we sing, we pray to the Lord. When we sing together as a group, we approach him in prayer as one. Singing a hymn as a congregation is an opportunity to put away those things that divide us from ward members, forgive offenses, and approach the Lord as one as we petition to be blessed with the presence of his Spirit through the sacrament.
4. Participate in the Sacrament Prayers.
Elder Meurs encourages us to “participate” in the prayers, not just “listen” to the prayers. This is, I think, evidence that Elder Meurs has done some close readings of the sacrament prayers. The prayers are prayed not in the first person singular, “I,” but in the first person plural, “we.” The priest is not just invoking his authority as a priest to bless the emblems himself by the authority of the priesthood. Rather, he is leading the congregation in a prayer, asking God to bless the emblems.
In fact, section 20 says, of the priest who administers the sacrament that “he shall kneel with the church and call upon the Father in solemn prayer.” In my experience, the priest always kneels. But , and is corrected when he doesn’t, even if he says the prayer correctly. I’ve never been in a ward where the congregation kneels during the sacrament prayer, and I’m not aware whether the congregation knelt in the early days of the restoration, but regardless, when the priest recites the prayer, he is praying not for the church or on behal of the church or for the benefit of the church, but “with the church.”
Accordingly, Elder Meurs tells us to “participate” in the prayer by mentally committing to each of the commitments of the prayers: be willing to take on ourselves Jesus’ name, be willing to keep his commandments, and always remember him.
This is the place where I would have expected the speaker to talk about renewing baptismal covenants. But Elder Meurs didn’t go there. I appreciate that he didn’t because in my experience when we take that approach we have a tendency sometimes to skip over the commitments of the prayers. But Elder Meurs doesn’t do that. I think the sacrament does renew baptismal covenants, but it doesn’t just incorporate them by reference, it renews them in a specific way. First and foremost it does so by reminding us of Jesus—his body and his blood. We eat in remembrance of the body and the blood, so that we can witness to God that we always remember Jesus, that we are willing to take his name on ourselves, and that we are willing to keep his commandments.
That witness is of course, similar to the witness we make at baptism, that we have repented of all our sins and are willing to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, determined to serve him. See D&C 20:37. So in that sense, it renews our baptismal covenant, but it does so specifically by committing us to remember his body and blood and thereby renew our commitment to continual repentance. If we just say that when we eat and drink we renew our baptism, we can skip over the vital steps that get us there. I appreciated Elder Meurs’ close reading of the sacrament prayers. 
5. Remember Jesus as the Emblems are Passed.
Finally, Elder Meurs counsels us to specifically remember Jesus’ body when the bread is passed and to specifically remember his blood when the water is passed. And he gives some examples of what that might look like.
To remember his body, for example, might mean to remember the resurrection—that his body was raised up, again a living man, but no longer mortal, and that through that, we have the promise that our bodies will be raised up. To remember his blood might mean to remember that his blood was shed that we might not suffer as he did, if we will repent.
On this point, I would also suggest Elder Costa’s talk last year, linked above, which discusses powerful ways to remember Jesus.
* * *
I have often overlooked the sacrament. I was recently released from about three years of serving with the Aaronic priesthood, which gave me repeated opportunities to teach about the sacrament. Preparing those lessons caused me to repent of having taken the sacrament lightly. When I have taken time to appreciate the sacrament, it is incredibly important and incredibly beautiful. In it’s symbolism, in its commitments, in it’s promise, it goes straight to the heart of what it means to believe the good news and be a Christian. I appreciate Elder Meurs’ call to let the sacrament make us holy and I look forward to trying to apply his suggestions to deepen my own worship.
 Elder Meurs was sustained in April as a General Authority 70. He is a second generation member of the church native to Australia. Before entering full time church service, he was a successful mining executive. Watch his I’m a Mormon video here.
 Read Jason’s post last year about these talks.
 Read Jason’s post last year about this talk.
 Another indication that Elder Meurs was speaking from a close and considered reading of the sacrament prayers is that he grounded his entire discussion in the savior’s words in 3 Nephi 18. This is important, I think, because that chapter records the historical event that was, in my opinion, the source for our sacrament liturgy, rather than the last supper. But I think I’ll lay out my thoughts on that in a separate future post.