"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
October 15, 2014
Pondering the Power of the Sacrament
by Marian Stoddard

I attended a baptism yesterday, of a young woman who is the first of her family to embrace the gospel. Her mother and sister came with her, and her mother said to me that this had made her daughter so happy, she had to agree to it. The simple service was very personal and filled with love in the welcome and remarks.

I had only found out about this baptism by chance that morning, coming to the church building for another reason; I was able to get my other business done in time to return later for the service. The young woman was confirmed this morning (Sunday), and I wasn’t the only one who felt it was a privilege to be in the room to hear the blessing she received from the same missionary who had baptized her.

He’s one of our best, a convert himself, and he completes his mission and returns home this week. It was a choice experience.

I had been thinking about the sacrament in the past several days. Coming to it today right after the quiet joy of yesterday’s baptism made the renewal of our baptismal covenants very immediate to me. It should be, always, but we are less than perfect people in a far less than perfect world, so other concerns can get in the way.

One of God’s mercies is that you don’t have to be perfect before He can bless you, and I’m grateful for that.

I’ve been thinking about the time when my husband and I served a stake mission in the Vietnamese branch that was then attached to our ward. (To the question, did we speak Vietnamese, no — we would have to grab a twelve-year-old if we needed to translate; they were in school and functioned in both languages.)

We had Vietnamese-speaking missionaries assigned to the branch — two sets of them eventually — and various permutations of sharing the services on Sunday.

They tried headsets and concurrent translation for a period of time. At the time that we were called, they had started having the Vietnamese members all in with us through the sacrament, then dividing them off into the Relief Society room for a Sunday School class while the ward continued with their normal English-language talks.

They offered the sacramental prayers twice, the prayer on the bread first in English, then in Vietnamese, then the Aaronic priesthood would pass the bread to the congregation; the process would be repeated for the water. Everyone received it together, twice-blessed.

Then the leadership decided to have a fully separate meeting. The branch would have a sacrament meeting during the ward Sunday School time, and gospel doctrine class moved out of the chapel to accommodate us. Now, the sacrament prayers were still spoken twice, but Vietnamese was first, followed by English for all of us who needed it.

On one Sunday, the prayer on the bread was given in Vietnamese, and then the brethren stood to pass the trays to those who were serving in that office for the day. Head bowed, waiting for the English, I realized the English wasn’t coming and raised my head. I sent the thought towards heaven, “That’s all right — I know the words.”

Instantly the answer filled me, that I did know the words. I knew them well. It was not necessary for me to hear them in this moment in my own language to be blessed by their meaning. And it was not familiarity with words alone that brought their power to me and into me.

For a moment the door of light opened, as I was filled with levels and powers of meaning of that simple weekly ordinance, at once pure and complex, that both poured into me and welled up from within me. There are things our souls remember under all the dullness of earth, but we have no words.

I understood the purpose and promise of the sacrament before, but this changed the level of knowing. As I have returned to the sacramental table again and again over the years, it blesses me still.

Administering and receiving the sacrament is not complicated or lengthy, but it should not become ordinary to us. It blesses, heals, and renews us. It’s a large part of the power that will perfect us, because Christ is that power.

I thought today how the water represents his blood which was shed for us, but that was in Gethsemane, in the garden, which happened before Calvary, where he died. Most of the Christian world does not understand this truth which has been revealed to us: it was in the Garden that he took upon himself the infinite burden of all our sins and sorrows. His greatest pain was not the cross.

But we are offered the bread first, for his body, which is the physically apparent part of his suffering, because that is what we can see first. The spiritual is deeper, its pain more profound, and those without spiritual sight may miss seeing it at all.

Crucifixion is visible, horrible, and physical. It’s very literal. The garden where he bled for each of us from every pore was emotional, psychological, spiritual, and requires discernment.

He carried that agony and burden from that garden, through all that followed in the scourging, the crown of thorns, the mockery of two phony trials, and the cross. It was the first portion of his sacrifice, and it was the final portion too. Not until he could say, “It is finished,” did that invisible, eternal, love-overflowing gift to us, the portion represented by his blood which was shed for us, come to completion.

Thus, the blood is both the beginning, before the body was broken for our sakes, and the ending. As the two sacramental prayers go from “they are willing to” keep his commandments, into “they do” keep his commandments, so the bread, the solidly physical, goes then to the water, the fluidly intangible.

What begins the fulfillment of his atoning mission also concludes it, as he himself is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. The fluid blood is the more solid strength of his love for us. Symbols and layers.

I have been pondering the depths contained in this simplest of ordinances since Cheryl Esplin’s talk in General Conference. Coming into our meeting this Sabbath with joy already in my heart, lingering from the baptism of the newest child of his kingdom, I reflected that Christ is indeed, sweetly, the bread of life and, eternally, the wellspring of living water, to keep us from perishing from hunger or thirst.

He comes to sustain us all. These are his emblems, as we partake.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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