The idea of ‘renewing’ a covenant seems initially kind of strange when I think about it. A covenant is a contract so if you break the terms of the contract isn’t the contract null and void? Why do we have to keep renewing a promise that we have already made? Or how about this: Why would God make a covenant with man, if he knows that every single one of us will break it?
I was thinking back to the era of the Law of Moses. God made covenants with Israel, yet they still had these sin and peace offerings that they could make from time to time as needed. So what exactly is going on here with the covenants we make today? When doctrinal issues seem a bit muddled, it’s always best to go to back to the source and break everything down into digestible parts.
Let’s examine the sacrament prayers themselves for more insight into the covenants we make.
The blessing on the bread:
“O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he has given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.”
First, we learn that we are eating the bread in remembrance of the body of Christ. So what is it about the body of Christ that we are to remember? Do we remember his body alive and well, walking the earth? Do we remember it bleeding in the Garden of Gethsemane, tortured, or hanging on the cross?
Well, thanks to the Book of Mormon, we can read an account where Jesus Christ himself answers this question when he administered the bread to the Nephites:
“And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.”3 Nephi 18:7
So what body did Jesus Christ show the Nephites? Well, let’s take a look back in 3 Nephi 11:14,15:
“Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world. And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.”
It is perfectly clear that it is his glorified, resurrected body that we are to remember as we partake of that broken bread. Jesus says that if we eat that bread and remember his resurrected body, then this will be a testimony or a witness unto the Father that we always remember him.
As we return, Sabbath after Sabbath partaking of the bread, this literally becomes something we always do. We always meet every Sabbath to remember the Savior and by doing this simple act and maintaining this attitude throughout the week we will have his Spirit to be with us.
Taking his name upon us
We also witness unto God that we are willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ; well what does that mean? The apostle Paul taught the Galatians:
“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”Galatians 3:26-29
The phrase “put on” is from the Greek word “Enduw” (pronounced “en-doo’-o”) which means: “(in the sense of sinking into a garment); to invest with clothing (literally or figuratively):–array, clothe (with), endue, have (put) on.”
In the next chapter in verse 4 Paul says:
“Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”
We are literally adopted into the family of Jesus Christ, just like we had been born under the covenant of Abraham and we become heirs to all that Abraham was promised. We became clothed with flesh at birth and now are spiritually clothed with the flesh of Christ, by ‘putting him on’ or ‘taking his name upon ourselves’. We will one day be resurrected and ‘put on’ the glorified body that Christ won for us through his atonement!
Insights into ‘keeping’ the commandments
When we promise to ‘keep’ the commandments that sounds pretty simple. But upon closer analysis, we find that we are not being asked to just ‘do’ the commandments but to keep them. Well, what does the word “keep” mean then? Let’s check it out by looking at a good Hebrew Old Testament verse:
“And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”Exodus 20:6
The word ‘keep’ translated to “shamar” which literally means: “to hedge about (as with thorns), i.e. guard; generally, to protect, attend to, etc.:–beward, be circumspect, take heed (to self), keep(-er, self), mark, look narrowly, observe, preserve, regard, reserve, save (self), sure, (that lay) wait (for), watch(-man).”
Wow! This is really amazing, so when God is saying “keep the commandments” he’s actually saying “guard, protect, even build a wall around these commandments!” He isn’t saying “hey just do this stuff I’m asking you to do.” He is saying, “here is something incredibly valuable, treasure it and protect it.”
Establishing a premise for understanding the bread of the sacrament
When partaking of the bread, we remember the glorified, resurrected body of Christ, and clothe ourselves with his name by pledging to do his works while promising to be guardians of the sacred laws of exaltation that are freely given to us.
The blessing on the water (or wine in earlier times):
“O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee, in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this water to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.”
The timeline in Moses chapter six
If we break this down, we find that the first thing we are asked to do is to remember the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed for us. This line of instruction is a bit more obvious because we know from scriptures the manner in which Christ’s blood was shed, from Gethsemane to Golgotha. But is there anywhere else this blood that was shed for us comes into effect? Here’s a clue, let’s look at one of my favorite verses, Moses 6:60:
“For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified;”
Upon first glance, this verse seems very basic, but within this simple verse, we can discover a timeline. There are 2 key events indicated, a beginning and an end with something that brings us from one point to the other. The first event concerns the water, that is the day we enter the waters of baptism. After we do so, we receive the Holy Ghost which justifies us before God as clean because of the atonement of Christ and the law of mercy. Then, we come to the final event, something that will actually occur, this event is described by Jesus Christ himself:
“Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”Doctrine & Covenants 45:3-5
The verse is describing the final judgment and Christ’s role as our advocate with the Father using his blood as the mediating testament that we should be allowed into his presence. We should always remember that it was the precious blood of Christ that was shed here upon the earth and that this blood is now the key that allows us entrance into the presence of the Father.
The significance of ‘the cup’
We also see that remembering the blood of the Son of God is a witness unto God that we always remember him as well. Jesus also taught the Nephites about this after administering the wine unto them:
“And when the Disciples had done this, Jesus said unto them: Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you.”3 Nephi 18:10
I believe that there is something very powerful and sacred contained within this verse that took me years to see. Jesus says that partaking of ‘his blood’ witnesses unto the Father that we are willing to do that which HE has commanded us. Now let’s look back at the words Jesus spoke in the Garden of Gethsemane where he said:
“…Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”Luke 22:42
Christ did the will of the father by drinking the ‘cup’ he was given and we show that we are willing to do the will of Jesus Christ by partaking of the ‘cup’ that he gives to us. Now most of us focus so much on the water or the wine that we neglect the symbolism of the ‘cup’.
Let’s read some verses about the cup from Christ himself and the Apostle Paul.
“And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;”Matthew 26:27
“And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it.”Mark 14:23
“Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.”Luke 22:40
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?…”1 Cor. 10:16
“After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”1 Cor. 11:25-28
It appears that the cup itself in the New Testament is given more attention than the contents of the cup. Now with that in mind, read these words of Jesus Christ:
“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”D&C 19:18,19
We can remember when we drink our cup of fresh, clean, pure water, that the only reason our cup is pleasant is because Christ’s was bitter. That pleasant cup we drink is the will of God. Just as Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane raised that bitter cup up to the Father as a witness that he was willing to keep his commandments, we raise our pure cups to the Father as well as a witness that we are willing to keep the commandments of his Son, that through his blood, we can be reconciled unto him.
The bread and cup represent the victories of Jesus Christ that we will be able to enjoy with him because of his unmatched act of love and mercy on our behalf. So as we sing that solemn sacrament hymn detailing the sufferings and death of Christ, let us remember that there was suffering and there was death and bloodshed that purchased our salvation.
After considering the pain and sorrow the Savior passed through on our behalf, we should contrast that solemn scene with the tokens of victory that we partake of next. Let us consider the reaction of the Nephites after partaking of the sacrament:
“Now, when the multitude had all eaten and drunk, behold, they were filled with the Spirit; and they did cry out with one voice, and gave glory to Jesus, whom they both saw and heard.”3 Nephi 20:9
Now I’m not suggesting we stand up in our pews and shout, but as we partake of these tokens, does our soul cry out within us and give glory to whom it is due? Do we thank our everlasting Father for the gift of his Son and with a firm determination vow to stand strong and true to the Gospel of Christ?
The premise for understanding the cup/water of the sacrament
When drinking of the cup we remember the blood of Christ that was shed for us and are witnessing to God that we will always remember his Son.
Summary of the conditions of the sacramental covenant
There are some other interesting points about these prayers. Both are petitioning God in the name of Christ to “bless and sanctify” physical tokens to the souls of the partakers. The actions are to be done in remembrance of Christ; in fact the word remember is used four times out of both prayers combined. Partaking both tokens is a ‘witness’ to ‘God the Eternal Father’ of three things:
- take upon the name of Christ
- always remember him
- keep his commandments that he has given us
All conditions of the covenant outlined above are the terms by which we are given the benefit of always having the Spirit to be with us but “having the Spirit to be with us” is not just some trite statement.
What does “Constant Companionship” mean?
Many times in talks and lessons I hear people talking about the Holy Spirit and that when we are baptized we are blessed to have the Spirit to be with us always that we have his “constant companionship”. I think the whole “constant companion” phrase might have originated from this verse:
…The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth;D&C 121:46
The doctrine that the Holy Ghost will be our “constant companion” through confirmation is true, but the way that I have seen this doctrine explained from time to time causes me to wonder if many really understand the doctrine. Sometimes tradition causes us to pass on simplistic ways of explaining things that can distort our paradigms.
An analogy is often given using a pen or some other object; the teacher will remove the lid of the pen and say, here is the Spirit and then indicate that the pen is ‘you’. They might say that this represents us before baptism and tap the pen with the lid and say that it represents the Spirit touching and influencing our lives. They then will put the lid on the pen and say that it represents us after baptism, the Spirit is always with us.
Now, with all due respect, may I propose that this is a horrible analogy? Often, when I see people using this demonstration or one like it, I ask them if they then have the Spirit with them like that all the time, always? Every time the answer is the same: “Well…no,” to which I will reply “So then what is the difference?!” Do you see now why this is a horrible analogy? As Latter-day Saints we should know better; we should understand better the real power of the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
“Having the Spirit to be with us” is better understood in light of Moses 6:6 which we have already been introduced:
“For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified;”
“By the Spirit ye are justified” means that through the ordinances of the gospel, we enter a special state of existence where we may stand pure and clean, justified, before the Lord by virtue of the atonement through the gift of the Holy Ghost – the baptism of fire. When the third member of the Godhead abides with a penitent person of the covenant, they are clean before the Lord a state that a non-baptized individual cannot enjoy. The blessings of the atonement are conditional upon our receiving them by way of covenant and ordinances.
Remember that baptism is for the remission of sins and the remission of sins comes not by the water but through the baptism of fire:
…For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.2 Nephi 31:17
Us going down into the water is the keeping of the commandment, but unless we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost it is nothing to us. Joseph Smith taught:
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. The Savior says, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’History of the Church, 5:499
Just because a confirmation ordinance has taken place, this does not mean that a person has actually received the gift of the Holy Ghost. A person may receive the gift at that moment or it may be weeks or years before it happens; it is up to the individual. David A. Bednar recently said:
…These four words—“Receive the Holy Ghost”—are not a passive pronouncement; rather, they constitute a priesthood injunction—an authoritative admonition to act and not simply to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26). The Holy Ghost does not become operative in our lives merely because hands are placed upon our heads and those four important words are spoken. As we receive this ordinance, each of us accepts a sacred and ongoing responsibility to desire, to seek, to work, and to so live that we indeed “receive the Holy Ghost” and its attendant spiritual gifts. “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (D&C 88:33).David A. Bednar, Receive the Holy Ghost, October 2010 General Conference
The gift of the Holy Ghost is not just for the purpose of guidance and direction, which is certainly is, but perhaps more important are the redemptive and cleansing aspects of the gift that are the most precious and desirable since it is only through this gift that we can receive the blessings of the atonement and be sealed up into eternal life.
The New and Everlasting Covenant
Now is probably a good time to introduce the “new and everlasting covenant.” It is very simple and easy to define with a few select quotes:
Brigham Young said:
“All Latter-day Saints enter the new and everlasting covenant when they enter this Church. They covenant to cease sustaining, upholding and cherishing the kingdom of the Devil and the kingdoms of this world. They enter the new and everlasting covenant to sustain the Kingdom of God and no other kingdom. They take a vow of the most solemn kind, before the heavens and earth, . . . that they will sustain truth and righteousness instead of wickedness and falsehood, and build up the Kingdom of God, instead of the kingdoms of this world.”Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 62-63
We enter the church through baptism and baptismal covenants, but what is the “New and Everlasting Covenant?”
The new and everlasting covenant is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The sum of all gospel covenants that God makes with mankind is called “the new and everlasting covenant” and consists of several individual covenants, each of which is called “a new and an everlasting covenant.” It is “new” when given to a person or a people for the first time, and “everlasting” because the gospel of Jesus Christ and Plan of Salvation existed before the world was formed and will exist forever.MD, pp. 479-80
According to Delbert L. Stapley, partaking of the sacrament renews ALL of our covenants:
“… By partaking of the Sacrament we renew all covenants entered into with the Lord and pledge ourselves to take upon us the name of his Son, to always remember him and keep his commandments.”in Conference Report, Oct. 1965, 14
To new investigators, baptism is the entry into the ‘new and everlasting’ covenant. The sacrament presents to them the renewal of those initial covenants, so it is correct to say to a new member that the sacrament ‘renews’ baptismal covenants because that is how they work together.
However, to one who has progressed to receive the fullness of the ‘new and everlasting’ covenant through the ordinances of the temple, such as the initiatory, endowment, and eternal marriage, the sacrament is not just a baptism-focused ordinance, but one that encompasses the entire new and everlasting covenant.
When we enter into these covenants we are no longer under the law of sin but the law of grace.
Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.Romans 6:13,14
This law of grace means that we exist in a different state than we did before. Things operate differently between ourselves and God now because we have made covenants with him.
This means that as we willingly accept Christ, we are ransomed by the grace of the atonement and we are literally in a state of salvation. The blood of Christ can ransom us because we are willing to keep his commandments and believe in him, we are under his grace.
This is how we ‘enter the gate’, then as each Sabbath day passes and we continue to witness unto God that we are willing to remember Christ and keep the commandments we progress further and further in righteousness, becoming more and more like our Savior. His grace transforms us and enables us to alter our natures and mold ourselves to become more like him, the law of grace enables the righteous to rise and achieve eternal potential.
Summing it all up
Sometimes we trip and stumble along this path, but under the law of grace, the Savior awaits with open arms and like the sinking Peter, he raises us up once more. This life is a process of purification and little by little the imperfect characteristics of our nature are removed to be replaced by the characteristics of deity; we renew and witness our willingness to this end.
We are mortal men and women and we are not flawless. We make mistakes, we lose our tempers, we encounter new challenges and struggles that we never had to deal with before, and old habits can resurface in new forms. The covenants of God show us the way, they are the gate and the strait path and his word is the iron rod.
The sacrament is the witness of the willing unto God, those who eat and drink as a sign of their desires for eternal life and a humble confession of the all-encompassing need for the atoning sacrifice of the Savior in determining their eternal destiny.
For me the atonement is similar to a math equation. X plus infinity, equals infinity. The goal of life is not to become infinite (perfect) as that is impossible. The goal is to obtain and maintain the connection with the Infinite. In this context, the covenants we make, that compose the New and Everlasting covenant, is how we obtain that connection. The combined/linked process/ordinance of repentance-sacrament is how we maintain that connection. It’s as integral a part of the atonement as can be, and likely why many General Authorities have commented on the Sacrament as the most holy ordinance we encounter.
I think that most people have a misunderstanding regarding what perfection is in the context of the gospel. That is another subject. I do agree with your ideas about maintaining a connection with the infinite. Connection, communication and exchange of ideas, the merging of minds and the voluntary unity is what drives everything.
The sacrament has been referred to (I don’t recall at the moment by who) as the most sacred ordinance outside the temple. Maybe that is true, but in some ways, it might even be the most important ordinance. The purpose of the sacrament is the reorientation of the will to God so that we can receive his mind, and by so doing, maintain a remission of our sins. We are enabled to become complete as we think and become more like God.