How many times have you heard the Sacrament prayers? As two of only a handful of rote prayers in the church, we hear them said exactly the same every week. Those raised in the Church may have heard them thousands of times; for myself, assuming weekly church attendance since birth, that’s 1,612 times.
But when was the last time you really listened to the words and the meaning of the prayers over the bread and water? They’re remarkably easy to take for granted, given the repetition. The two prayers are even similar to each other—note that the words are the same up until “bread” and “water”, and similar after. One prayer is given in remembrance of the body of Jesus Christ, the other in remembrance of His blood. Together, they are in remembrance of His suffering; and that, in those words, is what this hymn is about.
In remembrance of thy suff’ring,
Lord, these emblems we partake,
When thyself thou gav’st an off’ring,
Dying for the sinner’s sake.
We’ve forgiven as thou biddest
All who’ve trespassed against us.
Lord, forgive, as we’ve forgiven,
All thou seest amiss in us.
The first verse, indeed, could pass as a rough paraphrase of the sacrament prayers. In the prayers we take upon us Christ’s name, promise to always remember Him, and keep His commandments; in return, we’re promised His Spirit to be with us. In the first verse of this sacrament hymn, we remember Him, and aver that we have kept one of those commandments.
How many times have we sat through the Sacrament prayers plus a hymn that reiterates them—and still taken the Sacrament while thinking of something other than the Savior?
Purify our hearts, our Savior;
Let us go not far astray,
That we may be counted worthy
Of thy Spirit day by day.
When temptations are before us,
Give us strength to overcome.
Always guard us in our wand’rings
Till we leave our earthly home.
The second verse goes further by asking for additional help: guidance, strength, and protection. It’s a reminder that the Gospel doesn’t end with the closing prayer; we need the Spirit with us “day by day” to keep us on the strait and narrow path.
How much easier would our journey down that path be if we regularly stopped our day-to-day routines to evaluate our spiritual progress? It would give us a chance to lose our troubles in remembering the Savior, and where we always stand in His eyes. Stepping back would let us see both the trees and the forest, and renew those promises we have made with God.
When thou comest in thy glory
To this earth to rule and reign,
And with faithful ones partakest
Of the bread and wine again,
May we be among the number
Worthy to surround the board,
And partake anew the emblems
Of the suff’rings of our Lord.
The third and final verse adds new and compelling imagery of the Sacrament. There will come a time when the Savior, having come again and reigning personally on the Earth, will take the Sacrament with the faithful who abide His coming. Will you be there? Will I? Will we have lived our lives in such a way that we will be able to sit at the table at our Redeemer’s side, partaking next to Him the emblems of His suffering?
I suppose that’s up to each of us. But the Sacrament gives us that time, every week, to step back and evaluate how well we’re doing. If we pay attention to the prayers and hymns, as well as the sacred ordinance itself, we’ll be reminded of the specific covenants we’ve made; covenants where we’ve promised obedience, and in return receive the guidance of the Holy Ghost—which helps us further stay on the strait and narrow.
I’ve heard those Sacrament prayers quite a few times. But I’m going to listen a little closer next time.