Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sacrament Meeting Can Be a Revelatory Worship Service - or Just Another Meeting

NOTE: A friend of mine who was preparing to serve a mission wrote the following to me some time ago.  I honestly had not considered Sacrament Meeting in quite the way she explained, and I was moved by it.  I am publishing it here, with her permission, in order to emphasize the need to focus on the unique purposes of our varying Sunday meetings - to treat Sacrament Meeting as a WORSHIP service centered on Jesus Christ and not dilute the nature of worship by assigning and giving talks that would be best suited for Sunday School or the Relief Society / Priesthood meeting.  Our Sacrament Meetings, especially, should be what Elder Bednar called "revelatory experiences" - not "just" time to talk about things that could be discussed in detail elsewhere.
After attending church today, I feel the need to vent a little to someone who will actually listen to what I have to say.

Here's what it all boils down to: for the past few months of attending sacrament meeting, I am simply appalled with the general Mormon attitude towards Sacrament meeting I have seen. It frustrates me, and makes it difficult for me to have the motivation to go.

A few months ago while attending an Institute class that was specifically structured to discuss the Atonement, we had a lesson on the symbolism and sacred nature of the Sacrament and sacrament meeting. I know that you are aware of the symbolism, but allow me to quickly paraphrase what I learned. My teacher spoke about how the entire meeting should be focused on the Atonement of the Savior. He pointed out how the ideal meeting should be much like a funeral for a loved one. We come dressed in our best clothing (typically conservative and simple) and should reverently enter the chapel. The chapel itself is to represent the sacred tomb where our Savior was laid to rest after his sacrifice for us. In a very real sense, we are entering his tomb, where his body symbolically lays covered in white at the sacrament table. Ideally our thoughts and hearts should be turned to Him the moment we enter the room.

After entering, we then begin the meeting with prayer and song. An important purpose of these two things is to unite all in attendance to the same special spirit. The reason why we all come dressed similarly, and bow our heads and fold our arms in a uniform way, is to help us become united. The very essence of the English word Atonement is "at one ment", meaning together, united, connected, etc. That is the purpose of the Atonement-- to help us become one with God. Christ is the perfect example because he is literally the perfect union of man and God. This is the same reason why we are encouraged to sing together. All of these processes are intended to help us to unify our hearts together and become one with each other and God through the Spirit.

Another interesting thing my teacher taught my class is that as the priest kneels down and bows his head, he is acting at a proxy for Jesus Christ. It is as though Christ is blessing the sacrament for each of us, as he did for his apostles at the Last Supper.

The last piece of Sacrament meeting that I'd like to touch on is the talks given from the pulpit. As the sacrament is, in effect a funeral service, these talks should be on the person the funeral is for... Jesus Christ. This is where sacrament has really been getting to me lately. I come to hear others reflect on the Savior, and instead I get trip logs about girls camp and high adventures. Day one we did this... day two we did this... day three... and on and on. This just doesn't sit well with me! There's a time and place for everything, but reporting about your trip during sacrament is not the right place! Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if the speakers synthesized their experience and turned it into a lesson of spiritual thought, but this usually is not the case. There are times when Christ isn't even mentioned at all in the talks! Now I'm not saying that all the talks have to be on the same thing, but they should all tie back to Christ and His Atonement.

At a real funeral, these talks would come before the body is removed, and my teacher pointed out occasions where he had attended meetings that did just that. It would be interesting to attend such a meeting where the Sacrament ordinance was the focal point of the entire meeting (the climax if you will). I feel like placing the sacrament at the end like this would greatly change the flow of the meeting.

Pondering the deeper meaning of these things really can change your whole perspective of the Sacrament. I feel guilty throwing stones at others when I know I too am imperfect. We are all in this together and I realize that. I just feel strongly that Sacrament service today hardly accomplishes what it was designed to do. I hope what I'm saying makes sense and I apologize for jumping around a bit. Perhaps I am wrong in my argument, and if I am please let me know. These are just me feelings, and I hope that since you are in position of leadership that perhaps you could consider ways that you could help Sacrament be a little more sacred. Even those like me who are not in leadership can do our part.


Anonymous said...

I very much take the points raised here, but I'm also aware that it has taken time for me to be where I am now, and perhaps sacrament meeting is also a time in which to train people to attend sacrament and begin their process of engaging with the ordinance, and they may need to participate to some extent on their own terms. I often struggle with this.

Anonymous said...

Of all the things we talk about in Sacrament Meeting, the one thing we don't talk about is Jesus. I cannot remember the last time someone actually read from one of the four gospels or told a story about Jesus. We seem to have forgotten whose name is on our buildings.

cubee said...

I cannot agree with the overall message of the letter. The classic reason for not wearing crosses as Mormons is because we focus on the Resurrection and the Atonement, not Jesus's death. We have no need to mourn Jesus in a "funeral." The Good News of the Gospel is that He lives! Our leaders sometimes call our sacrament meetings "worship" meetings, but that's mostly lip service. I think our meetings need to go in essentially the opposite direction given in the letter. We can show reverence through real worship, not by perfecting our ability to be staid and quiet.

Papa D said...

Anon1, I agree that we need to allow people at all stages and with all perspectives to worship "on their own terms" (within limits, of course), and it's establishing those limits that is tricky.

Anon2, I believe we need to reserve many topics we often hear in Sacrament Meeting to Sunday School and the 3rd hour meetings, but I regularly hear about Jesus in Sacrament Meeting, as well. That will vary according to the vision and direction of the local leadership, but it's not pervasive to have long stretches of Sacrament Meetings where Jesus isn't mentioned at all.

cubee, I think you are misreading the spirit of the original letter by focusing too much on the somber nature of most funerals. I honestly think you and my friend agree far more than you think. At least in my case, I know I like peppy, uplifting songs of praise and worship, and I don't think "mourning Jesus" is what my friend meant. I think the meaning simply was focusing on Jesus in a truly worshipful way. Having said that, I think a proper balance is somewhere between what we normally imagine when we think of a funeral and a party.

For the actual sacramental ordinance, however, I FAR prefer the type of reverence found in quietude and contemplation - largely since that ordinance actually is in commemoration of his death, not his resurrection. The balance I would like to see is a commemoration of his death AND a celebration of his life - including a much more tightly focused sharing of his teachings, especially in the Gospels.