Some days Church is really long. REALLLLLLLLLLY long. I mean, we always say that the sacrament is the most important part, so why do we distract from what takes 10-15 minutes with another 2 and half hours of Church? Not to mention that oodles of members hold the Priesthood making them eligible (under proper direction) to bless and pass the sacrament in their own home. Why do we all come together for 3 hours every week?
I’ve had a couple of insights over the past little while. Let’s start with a quote from Eugene England’s transformative (at least for my Church-going experience) essay, “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel”:
“THE Church is as true as—perhaps truer than—the gospel because it is where all can find fruitful opposition, where its revealed nature and inspired direction maintain an opposition between liberal and conservative values, between faith and doubt, secure authority and frightening freedom, individual integrity and public responsibility, and thus where there will be misery as well as holiness, bad as well as good. And if we cannot stand the misery and the struggle, if we would prefer that the Church be smooth and perfect and unchallenging rather than as it is—full of nagging human diversity and constant insistence that we perform ordinances and obey instructions and take seriously teachings that embody logically irresolvable paradoxes—if we refuse to lose ourselves wholeheartedly in such a school, then we will never know the redeeming truth of the Church.”
There’s a lot to unpack there, but I think the idea of “fruitful opposition” is an important one and the insistence on the value of such frustrating, but necessary, opposition is key to the length of Church meetings. I mean, I think we’ve all experienced the misery of a slow and tortured funeral dirge of a closing hymn after an already overly long sacrament meeting. And yet, by the same token, there are those days where I am struck by the sublime holiness of the devotion and love present in my fellow Saints, bearing witness of simple blessings and divine goodness.
Some scriptural justification to back up the basic premise of England’s thoughts:
“And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.
And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus.” Moroni 6:5-6
The flow here from the Saints meeting together oft to fast, pray, and chat about how to help each other to them meeting together oft for the ordinance of the sacrament is striking to me. I rarely (if ever?) experience powerful, spiritual witnesses during the actual ordinance of the sacrament. I’ve heard of many that do, but that hasn’t been my reality. Yet, I have noticed a difference when I have the sacrament AND even when I miss some of my meetings, but get the sacrament. Why is this the case? Not sure. But I have an idea.
I think for me, the sacrament gains its redemptive and sanctifying power as I engage with my fellow Saints in the struggle of coming closer to Christ. Even if that engagement is relatively passive, as I listen and partake of others’ perspectives, but keep quiet in the corner eating my fruit snacks like a five year old. There’s something about the communal aspect of the ordinance and the rest of the three-hour block that brings us together (even if/precisely because it is fruitful opposition).
I had a revelatory experience about the individual aspect of the sacrament this summer. I was in England and one of the Sundays was helping to pass the sacrament to the congregation. We were one cup of water short. One. Yet, even for just that one, the water was blessed and passed to the individual. I often overlook the individual nature of the ordinance since it seems more communal, but that experience highlighted the fundamentally individual nature of the sacrament. It was profound. The feeling and presence of grace and divine love that grounds my belief in God and Mormonism.
And then, on Sunday, I was teaching (well, co-teaching) Gospel Doctrine and a dude in the class shared a fantastic insight on the following verse:
“That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:” Ephesians 1:10
I was thinking of this verse as referring primarily to truths that are scattered throughout the world, an interpretation that I think is still valid. But this guy suggested that perhaps the gathering is referring to the people that are gather together ideally as one in Christ all over the world every Sabbath. Perhaps because thoughts about the sacrament and purpose of meetings had been hanging around my mind, but for whatever reason I was struck by this idea. It felt powerful.
I think that’s how Church broadly and the sacrament specifically help us. I mean, we’re renewing our covenant to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort and that sort of communion would be difficult to achieve on your lonesome. Sure, the mourning and comforting that happens during Church may be relatively minor most of the time, but I think that principle of coming together sanctifies the ordinance in a way that doesn’t happen when it exists on its own.
Sure, we could probably do more to make the ordinance itself a central bit of our worship services, but I think the structure of Church helps us engage in “fruitful opposition” allowing us to see things from new perspectives, perhaps making the glass that we see through a little less dark. Or maybe we’re simply helping carry another’s burden, even if it’s only for a few minutes or hours. All I know is that I need Church for the sacrament to redeem and sanctify my soul (which we all know needs a hella amount of saving). I need the grace and love that comes as I strive to understand and love those around me. I need the frustrations and the misery. I need the fruitful opposition. Because in the struggle through all of that I find light. I find love. I find God.