My parents were the first members of the church in the small country town of Warrnambool, Australia. For many years church services were held in our family home. Between 15 and 20 faithful members gathered each Sunday to partake of the sacrament and worship together. Some of my earliest memories are of the special feelings of love and peace that I felt as a child at those meetings.
On occasions when branch attendance was just a handful, my father encouraged us with this little story. He would say that on Sunday morning, Heavenly Father sends a small bag of blessings to each congregation of the church throughout the world. If we are lucky enough to be at church with just a few members, then we receive a much bigger portion of those blessings.
While this story has no doctrinal basis, we have an opportunity to be richly blessed each week as we attend church and partake of the sacrament. We are taught in the Doctrine and Covenants: “That thou mayest …keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.” A few verses later the revelation uses the words “that thy joy may be full”, “rejoicing and prayer” and “with a glad heart and cheerful countenance”. 1
In the October 2016 General Conference, I shared a message entitled “The Sacrament Can Help Us Become Holy”. The message outlined five ways that may help us increase the impact and blessing of the sacrament in our lives. In this article I would like to focus on just the first concept – Prepare in Advance.
I remember the excitement and anticipation I felt before I was baptized. My parents and Primary teachers taught me about a loving Heavenly Father who wants to bless all His children. They taught me about faith and repentance and how I could repent in preparation for baptism. They helped me understand that through the love and sacrifice of the Savior Jesus Christ, I could be clean and free from the consequences of sin.
We can feel the same sense of joy and anticipation as we prepare each week to partake of the sacrament. We can consider the love our Heavenly Father has for us, His desire to bless us and help us to return to His presence. We can contemplate the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ who suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” on our behalf and who took “upon Him [our] infirmities, that His bowels may be filled with mercy according to the flesh” so that He could “succor His people according to [our] infirmities”. 2
Repentance becomes a joyful process of change. Through sincere repentance we are not only freed from sin, but also receive the help of an understanding and loving Savior who knows through personal experience how to succor and bless us.
Perhaps the most important preparation for the sacrament is our daily repentance. Sometimes we think of repentance as a process reserved for major sin where we need to confess to our bishop or branch president. The sacrament reminds us that repentance is a continuing, normal and expected part of our mortal experience. Repentance allows us to gradually make progress.
In each account of the Savior’s teaching and ministry He invites us and reminds us of the importance of repentance. One powerful example is His pleading words – “For behold, I, God have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent”. 3
The Lord taught through the Prophet Moroni that “if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble… for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” 4
As we prepare during the week for the sacred opportunity to partake of the sacrament, we can expect to experience “the enticing’s of the Holy Spirit” to help us understand how, with the help of the Savior, we can continue to become more like Him. 5 Repentance becomes a joyful process of change. Through sincere repentance we are not only freed from sin, but also receive the help of an understanding and loving Savior who knows through personal experience how to succor and bless us.
Then having prepared carefully, we can partake of the sacrament with peace and joy. We can feel of His love for us, we can listen carefully to the sacrament prayers and recommit to our sacred baptismal covenants and we can again receive the promise that the Holy Ghost will sanctify us and help us on our journey home.
I know that as we continue to prepare for and fully participate in the sacred sacrament ordinance that it will become the spiritual focus and highlight of our week, that our faith will be strengthened, and our love for the Savior and His work will increase.