This is one of my favorite sacrament hymns. The music and poetry are both simply lovely! There are a lot of important elements within these verses, so I’d like to briefly comment on a few that jump out at me:
“We now invoke / Thy Spirit … / to cleanse our hearts”
This reminds me of a wonderful quote from Truman G. Madsen:
“The most inclusive attendant blessing of the sacrament is his Spirit. The gifts and fruits of the Spirit engulf all our deepest needs: insight, flashes of guidance—all the virtues that center in Christ, and through them, all the fire that purifies our feelings and our aspirations. So, yes, we come to renew our covenants. But we also come to be renewed.”
“The broken bread and wine”
These are the two most potent and obvious symbols of the sacrament.
The bread is a powerful symbol of Christ’s body, not just in that bread is one of the hallmarks of mortality (cf. Gen 3:19), but also because it is broken, and broken specifically by us. When we watch those young priests tear the bread upon the altar, we’d do well to remember that we are watching the body of Christ being torn, and that, because He died for our sins, we are responsible. We ought to mourn when we take the bread.
But we ought to rejoice when we take the wine. Wine represents blood and life. It’s something you drink at parties, when you’re having a good time or celebrating an event. When we take the wine (now substituted with water), we ought to be rejoicing in the power of the resurrection and what the atonement has accomplished for us personally.
“May we forever think of thee”
This obviously bears affinity with our sacrament covenant to “always remember Him” (D&C 20:77, 79). What does this promise mean?
I think the prefix “re-” at the beginning of the word “remember” is suggestive. “Re-” means “again,” and so the Latin re-memor means to “be mindful again.” This leads me to think that my covenant is less about having Jesus as a particular topic in my mind at all times, and more about my practice of looking for the relevance of the atonement in the current moment.
For instance, I may be vacuuming my living room floor when I realize that I haven’t thought about the Savior in a while. My task in that moment is to see how the atonement and Christ’s grace is present even in this mundane task. My home and my vacuum are gifts from God. I don’t deserve them, but the goodness of the Lord has granted that I possess them for this moment. My vacuuming is an expression of love for my family—a family that, again, is a gift from God, and a family to whom I can be sealed only through the atonement and the resurrection.
I like to think that part of my covenant is that I will take notice of how the atonement affects every moment of my life, and then take notice again, and again, and again. I will constantly be drawing my mind back (“re-membering”) to the eternal perspective that allows me to see my life as saturated with grace.
“Salvation purchased on that tree”
For my previous thoughts on the symbolism of the cross as a tree, see here.
“May union, peace, and love abound”
This is an important element of the sacrament, too, though it is rarely talked about. One of the most crucial details of the sacrament is that it is something we take together, as a ward community. Part of what the sacrament accomplishes for us a kind of unity.
This was even beautifully symbolized in the way the sacrament used to be administered in the early church. The bread was still broken and distributed as it is now, but the water was sent around the congregation in one communal cup (we made the switch to individual disposable cups when sanitation and the flu epidemic became national concerns). In the sacrament, we ritually enact the drama of coming as scattered individuals (bread) to find our hearts knit together in unity (water) as we seek together to do the work of the Lord.
I love the sacrament. It truly is, as Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “one of the most holy and sacred ordinances of the Church.” If we will be more mindful of the symbols of its component parts, I think we will find a greater measure of what this hymn promises in its last verse: “Joy in one continual round / through all eternity.”