Taking half the sacrament

We were late for church on Sunday. We use public transport, and there is no direct route to church. Our bus was running late and we missed the tram we planned to catch. The next tram was half an hour later, and we arrived at church during the sacrament. We heard the prayer blessing the water, after which a man with a sacrament tray in his hand approached us in the corridor. I hesitated. Are we supposed to take only half the sacrament? I’m pretty sure someone once discouraged me from taking the sacrament if I arrived partway through. Why was that? Who was it? I don’t remember, but I can’t find much on the topic.

Baptising bags of sand

Joseph Smith famously said:

You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

History of the Church, 5:499

Latter-day saints have frequently connected sacrament to baptism. The bread, understood to represent Christ’s body, may be loosely associated with bodily baptism, and the drink representing the Christ’s blood, with spiritual baptism (the gift of the Holy Ghost). Partaking of the sacrament has often been spoken of as renewing baptismal covenants.

When we are baptized, we “take upon [us] the name of Christ” and enter “into the covenant with God that [we will] be obedient unto the end of [our] lives.” Each Sunday we renew that baptismal covenant by partaking of the sacrament and witnessing that we are willing to keep the commandments.

“If Ye Love Me, Keep My Commandments” – Elder Robert D. Hales, General Conference 2014

If the sacrament parallels baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and half a baptism is pointless, then it follows that half the sacrament is also pointless. It makes sense. I’m guessing but I think this might be behind my hesitation.

Remember Jesus: The primary purpose of the sacrament

Jesus explained the sacrament a bit differently when he instituted it:

And [Jesus] took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

Luke 22:19-20

The primary reason for partaking of the sacrament is to remember Jesus; His body and his blood, given for us. While Jesus body and blood can be related to baptism, remembering them is not the reason we get baptised. For instance, the followers of John the Baptist weren’t getting baptised to remember Jesus. The sacrament might parallel or overlap with baptism in some ways, but it is not simply a renewal of baptismal covenants.

Ideally, we would both eat and drink as we partake of the sacrament, but if the purpose is to remember Jesus, then we have good reason to participate even if only for part of it. Sip from that tiny cup, fellow late-comers! We can partake of the sacrament and remember Jesus, even if we missed the bread. If you have to leave the room with a screaming baby before the water is passed to you, the sacrament you did take is still effectual and meaningful. Even if we have not been baptised and have no covenant to renew, we can still eat or drink and remember Jesus. It may be our first sacrament, and we can partake of half, remember Jesus, and it can still be meaningful and within the scope prescribed in Luke.

Covenant renewal: A secondary purpose of the sacrament

The sacrament prayers used by latter-day saints are found in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, and include more than just remembrance. The sacrament prayers first mention remembering Jesus, and then afterwards taking Jesus’ name, keeping the commandments, and the companionship of the Holy Ghost. These additional elements are often understood as a covenant. Interestingly, the sacrament is not really taught as a covenant of renewal in the New Testament, or in the part of the Book of Mormon where Jesus institutes the sacrament. The sacrament was not taught as being connected to baptism either, not in the New Testament or by early church leaders in this dispensation either. However, we still take care to use these prescribed words when we administer the sacrament today.

The title “renewing our baptismal covenants” is not found in the scriptures. It’s not inappropriate. Many of you have used it in talks; we have used it in talks. But it is not something that is used in the scriptures, and it can’t be the keynote of what we say about the sacrament. … The sacrament is a beautiful time to not just renew our baptismal covenant, but to commit to Him to renew all our covenants, all our promises, and to approach Him in a spiritual power that we did not have previously as we move forward.

Neil L. Andersen, “Witnessing to Live the Commandments,” General
Conference Leadership Training (2015), as cited by Perego (2016) , see Further Reading.

Sometimes people create additional meaning or symbolism to things. Like taking or passing the sacrament with your right hand. Or like John Bytheway saying the white sacrament cloth over the sacrament table looks like a cloth draped over Jesus body. It might be meaningful to some, but isn’t scripturally required.

Renewing covenants can be a meaningful part of taking the sacrament, but if it is stopping you from taking the sacrament sometimes, it’s not working for you at those times. Don’t let covenant renewal take over your sacrament experience. Think more about living water than the waters of baptism. Don’t miss out on a spiritual experience trying to fit additional meaning or symbolism to a simple but already deepLy meaningful practice. If you’re late, simply drink the water and remember Jesus.

Further Reading

The Changing Forms of the Latter-day Saint Sacrament – Ugo A. Perego

11 thoughts on “Taking half the sacrament

  1. Seeker

    Much about the ordinance of the Sacrament is misunderstood. Even common phrases like “partake of the sacrament” is not exactly right. Let’s start at the beginning: When the member of the bishopric announces that the ordinance of the Sacrament is about to begin, all of the doors of the chapel are closed, reminiscent of the temple at the beginning of an Endowment ordinance. At that moment, the chapel – which is used for multiple purposes – becomes an ordinance room. A hymn is then sung by the congregation; not an ordinary hymn, but one than focuses on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. LDS’s as a whole do not focus on the crucifixion in practice, talks, or hymns, but this hymn is designed to do just that.

    Sometimes people think that the partaking of the bread and water is the most important part of the ordinance. It is not. The most important part of the ordinance is clearly paying attention to the words of the blessings – quickly examining oneself – and agreeing that you understand and will attempt to comply with the covenant by saying “amen”. After which the bread and water, which are emblems of the body and blood of the Savior, are passed to the congregation.

    In our stake it is made known to members that if they were unable to participate in the full sacrament ordinance for any reason, they may come up to the pulpit following the service and members of the bishopric and/or Aaronic priesthood will conduct the ordinance in a side room.
    Particularly in our stake’s assisted-living branch, this is an almost weekly practice.

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    1. Josiah Reckons Post author

      Hi Seeker. I think it’s lovely that your ward administers the sacrament again for people that missed part of it. Now that I think about it, I have lived in branches/wards where we have sometimes done something similar, for the elderly or sick, but not usually for late-comers.

      I disagree that that the phrase ‘partake of the sacrament’ is not right. Partake is to eat or drink, which is what Jesus directed his apostles to do, and to remember Him. We find this phrase in scriptures that suggest the most important part of the sacrament is a remembering Jesus (e.g. D&C 27:2). I’m willing to be persuaded though. Is there anything else you can share that shows it is inaccurate or inappropriate to say “partake of the sacrament”?

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  2. Seeker

    “On the night before His Crucifixion, Jesus Christ met with His Apostles and instituted the Sacrament (see Luke 22:19–20). After His Resurrection, He instituted the Sacrament among the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 18:1–11). Today the Sacrament is an ordinance.” -LDS Online Study Manual (lds.org)

    I probably stated it stronger than I meant too, but I just wanted to point out that the phrase “The Sacrament” is referred to by the Church as the ordinance. I guess I wanted to swerve people away from the thought that just the bread and the water is the sacrament. And, of course, you are right that “partake” is part of the sacramental prayer; at the point that it’s said it serves sort of as an instruction more than a title (like “here’s what you do with the bread that represents the Savior’s body). As I’m sure you probably know, in other parts of Christianity the word sacrament is used synonymously with any church-sanctioned “rite”, i.e. the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. In our church, we use the term only for the ordinance some others refer to as The Lord’s Supper.

    I’m sure the Church won’t come crashing down if members think of just the bread and water when they use the phrase “partaking of the Sacrament”. I was just trying to make a clear distinction between the emblems as part of the ordinance and the ordinance as a whole. Sorry if I misspoke.

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  3. Seeker

    I’m probably a little too focused on the casual way that members refer to the ordinances. I have concerns when people use the phrase “I’m taking out my endowments”. Ah, no, you’re taking out your lovely wife after the temple session, but you are receiving your Endowment – your “Gift” – from The Lord. I’m also not a big fan of the line: “I know when I am baptized my wrongs are washed away, and I can be forgiven and improve myself each day…” being sung at every 8-year old’s baptism, just after some sweet member has explained to them that little children are pure in the eye’s of the Lord prior to baptism.

    Yep, for a dude with only half a brain I really try to think too much with it.

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  4. ji

    Thank you. We need to do the best we can, and it is okay if we miss the bread because of the late bus but still partake of the water. Let’s not over-proceduralize or over-dogmatize a very simple ordinance.

    To me, the sacrament is an ordinance offered for and to the assembled saints. To me, there is no covenant at either sacrament or baptism.

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    1. Josiah Reckons Post author

      Thanks Ji. I’ve often thought it was interesting that we can’t find a clearly defined baptismal covenant, with t’s and c’s, in scripture. Lds usually draw on scriptures spread across the place. If a covenant, it makes you wonder if there are t’s and c’s missing. If not, it sounds like a still beautiful and meaningful and important ordinance but one that is a little more malleable in meaning or application than lds usually think.

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