Posted below is a talk that I gave in church on Sunday. I imagine that most people that might be interested in reading this have attended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before, but just in case I’ll explain why I would speak in church, given that I am a PhD student in business. Our church does not have a paid clergy, so church members have the opportunity to speak periodically. I think I have spoken about once per year while here in Minnesota. The Bishop of our ward asked me to speak for 10 minutes on the significance of the Last Supper in our lives today, and this is what I presented. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak in church because it gives me a focused opportunity to study and ponder on a specific topic, along with a very firm deadline. While preparing for this talk, I made realizations that I had not made previously.
Today, on Easter Sunday, we commemorate the triumphant culmination of all that had been planned from the beginning for the Savior. Unlike other faiths, we do not have a unique ordinance specifically associated with Easter. My goal today is to anchor in your heart a personal connection to the Last Supper that will help you in your ability to always remember our Savior, especially while partaking of the sacrament. I also hope to demonstrate that remembering and understanding the Last Supper helps us to better understand the Atonement in two ways. First, the events comprising the Last Supper remind us that we need deliverance from captivity to death and sin. Second, the Last Supper teaches us that Jesus seeks an intensely personal relationship with us.
The Savior’s last week fell during the Feast of Unleavened bread. On Thursday, the day of Passover, the Apostles asked where Jesus would have them prepare the Passover. He responded that they would be led to a large upper room where He and the twelve apostles would eat the Passover meal. It was in this Last Supper meal that Jesus sought to teach and love in one last direct way to his Apostles and to you and I.
Captivity and Deliverance
Before instituting the sacrament, Jesus ate the Passover meal with His Apostles. For me, the fact that the Sacrament was established within the Passover helps me to better understand why we need the sacrament. As part of the commemoration of the Passover in Jesus’ time, each family would review the redemption of the Israelites in Egypt before eating the Passover meal together.
A brief review of the story of the Passover helps us to understand our great need. The Israelites were in bondage to the Egyptians. The bondage and captivity was real, unrelenting, and palpable. And they could not do anything about it. Despite six plagues sent from God, Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites. Then the God of Israel decreed a last plague, the death of the first-born son of all those in Egypt. In contrast to the horror of the previous plagues, this plague had far-reaching generational consequences. Not just property, but posterity, was affected, and there was no way to escape its permanent effects.
Yet, God provided a way of deliverance for the Israelites. He prescribed that the Israelites would gather in families and sacrifice a lamb without blemish. By sprinkling the blood of this lamb on the doorposts and lintel of the door, the Israelites could be spared. While they needed to act, it was clear that they could not save themselves by some simple act of spreading blood on the door. Think of the hope of all hopes that the Israelites clung to as they killed the lamb and sprinkled its blood on the door. I am sure that they wanted to make it clear that their house had been thoroughly touched.
The thoughts of this captivity, bondage, and deliverance were relived in a very physical way in the subsequent years during the feast of the Passover. In a very real way, a lamb died each year. The Last Supper thus began with the sacrifice of a life. The reality of this ongoing sacrifice as well as the reality of the bondage of the Israelites provided the foundation on which Jesus could institute the sacrament, which more directly and vividly connected to Jesus’ own great and last sacrifice to provide US deliverance from captivity to death and sin,
“And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:19-20). And with these words, he instituted the ordinance that we are still able to participate in weekly. As we take the bread, we remember His body, and how He died and was resurrected, allowing us to overcome the sicknesses, pains, and ailments that eventually end in death. As we take the water, we remember His sacrifice for our sins, in which he felt all of our sins, our heartaches, and our disappointments.
Jesus’ institution of the sacrament during the Last Supper helps us to realize that we, who live in a country and time known for great freedom, are truly in captivity in a very real and urgent way, just as the ancient Israelites were. Recently, I had reason to reflect on how utterly powerless I am in the face of death and sin. On Thursday, as I rode my bike to school, I came upon an accident, with police cars everywhere. A 25 year-old University student was killed in a collision with a semi-truck while riding her bike. This reminded me of how little power we have to escape death. We can try to ignore or cheat death. The search for the fountain of youth continues in our day, with many more explorers and more elaborate youth-maintaining elixirs. We spend our money and time on sports cars, travel, cosmetic surgery, and entertainment to feel young and free, even when it’s clear that we can do nothing to escape death. Yes, we all will die, and death is an unrelenting taskmaster.
Of course, we are also all powerless to overcome sin. I recently had a profound realization of my own need for grace when I thought of how little difference there is between me and another guy, who had made mistakes that our laws deems worthy of prison. I realized that the line between “me” and “them” was much less bright. For example, how easy would it have been for me to make a careless mistake while driving that would result in the death of innocent victims. As I thought on this, I imagined what it would be like to be in prison, to feel trapped, without hope. The captivity that sin brings became more real to me.
While imagining what it would be like to be physically imprisoned is for most of us a fleeting experience in empathy, we are all indeed in bondage to sin. Our imperfect laws give us a feeling of unearned easiness. Perhaps it’s our experience with grading on a curve or our tendency for social comparison that make us think that as long as we follow the commandments better than the people around us, we’ll be okay. Because we can’t all fail, right? Yet, according to eternal laws of justice “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Of course there are more serious sins than others, but just as all the Israelites were in bondage to Pharaoh, we are ALL captive to sin.
In our individualistic society, we often believe that we will benefit or pay for our own actions, so that maybe we can make up for our sins and justify ourselves. However, our personal sins affect others in often profoundly negative ways. In economics, we call these effects externalities. These are effects of our own actions that are not assigned to those who sin. It’s not just the cyclical patterns of abuse that extend across generations and are so hard to stop. Think of the rippling effect emanating from just being a bad example. When we consider this, it is quite clear that even “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23) our best efforts to make up for our own sins are incomplete. We truly are in bondage. We need deliverance, just as the Israelites. I hope that as we sit in church to partake of the sacrament we can remember the Last Supper, and with it our real need for deliverance from death and sin, so that we can receive the forgiveness that can only come through Jesus Christ.
The Last Supper shows that Jesus seeks a personal relationship with us. Jesus could have eaten His last meal with the multitude. However, the Savior invited just his Apostles. And even in such a small group, He focused on a personal relationship. Perhaps we can remember this as we partake of the sacrament and imagine ourselves in this small room with Him.
”And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me. And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I?” (Mark 14:18-19) Why would they ask, “Is it I?” Were they just insecure? As I reflect more on this, I think that they were humble in reflecting on how they had probably failed before in living up to what they knew Jesus had taught them. They knew that ordinary sin and failing to remember Him, in effect, was only a difference of degree and circumstance from betraying Him, since they had a personal relationship with Him. Jesus suffered for each of our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane, so each of us is also personally tied to Jesus Christ through our sins that might at first seem unrelated to Him.
We might ask similarly, “Lord, is it I?” especially as we partake of the sacrament. Perhaps we don’t willfully betray the Savior, but certainly we have times when we fail to remember Him, as we have covenanted at baptism and during the sacrament. Our failure to remember damages our relationship with Him. For example, not making it a priority to be physically present to partake of the sacrament weekly, is similar to “not being able to make it” to the Last Supper with our Savior? It’s not a social obligation or a duty. Rather it is a part of our relationship with Him.
His desire for a personal connection with us is shown in the caring way that He washed the disciples’ feet, again in a very personal way. It would have been much easier and efficient for him to teach them: “You need to love others.” Then He could have instructed them how to wash each other’s feet. But rather, he washed each apostle’s feet individually. This He did even though He knew that they might betray him, as Judas did, or deny knowing him, as Peter did, or fail to even stay awake with Him as he suffered for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane as they all did. Think of the time that it took to build those relationships. We have a very brief record, but if it took five minutes to wash each of their feet, He was washing for a full hour. The Last Supper can help remind us that He loved His Apostles, and He loves us personally and wants to have a relationship with us.
We are all powerless against sin and death, but because of the Savior’s atonement for us, we each can be saved, or delivered as we establish a personal relationship with Christ. Remembering the Last Supper helps us to do that. The Last Supper connects us to the prior ordinance of the Passover, which helps us to remember the very real way in which we are truly captive to death and sin and how the Savior helps to deliver us. The Last supper also shows us how personal our relationship to the Savior is. It shows that our actions do indeed matter because our sins cause our Savior suffering. Finally, we have the opportunity to remember the Last Supper each week as we partake of the sacrament. As we sing the hymn we can think of the hymn that the Savior sang with his disciples. As we take the sacrament, we can think of how He delivers us from sin and death, over which we have no power. Let us not forget our loving Savior who personally invites us to come to Him.
Monica and I have been married for 12 years, and since we started dating in April, and were married in January, we’ve had 12 Valentine’s Days together. Here are just 12 reasons, among many, that I love Monica. I thought about putting this to music (like the 12 Days of Christmas), but I think it will stand a bit better just as a few thoughts.
12. Monica’s got great hair. One of the first things that impressed me about Monica was her hair. She has beautiful thick curly hair. It looks great long and short, and it will always be one of her distinctive traits.
11. Monica is beautiful. Beauty was not actually that high on my priority list of attributes when I got married, but I’m glad that I got lucky to have someone beautiful to look at everyday.
10. Monica’s beautiful look is real. Of course she is beautiful, but I see many beautiful women who never feel that their natural beauty is enough, so they have overdose on cover-ups, beauty products, and plastic surgery to the extent to which they look fake. That drives me crazy! Monica definitely cares how she looks, but she always looks like Monica.
9. Monica’s not a scorekeeper. I get the feeling sometimes that there is a competition between some couples, with some unseen ledger in which one spouse always owes the other. That makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t feel like Monica’s keeping a tally and making sure everything is equal all of the time.
8. Monica is comfortable with people. Monica deals well with many types of people. She leaves long and funny phone messages, she is effusive in praise (she says this must be her love language), and generally happy to make people talk, even if it means making herself vulnerable.
7. Monica has grand aspirations. I’ve always wanted to do something new and great with my life, rather than keep up with being able to do what the neighbors are doing with their lives. We may disagree on the specifics sometimes, but we both want to do unique things and create something new, and that excites me.
6. Monica is adventurous. I love that we have lived in France and Mexico and several states, and Monica is willing to try new things. We try new and different types of food all of the time and she’s always up for an adventure.
5. Monica will always be young. I really am amazed when I realize that Monica and I are ten years (or more) older than many of the students around us. Monica has matured in many ways, but she is still fun. I’m sure she will always be this way.
4. Monica does not complain. We’ve been married for 12 years. She didn’t marry someone without any education or without a plan. But the plans changed. She kind of thought the newly-wed school years were over ten years ago. Now with almost seven more years in school, and likely another one to come, she continues to say, “You do what you think is right. I’m fine.” This has been such a comfort to me, especially as I’ve been in this PhD program where I have felt overwhelmed, humbled, and often frustrated.
3. She helps me to laugh and my kids to laugh. I was thinking yesterday that one of the things that I love best in life is to see our family laughing together. Monica can laugh at herself, and we can laugh together at our mistakes as a couple and parents. Life would be a drudgery without that ability.
2. Monica loves and is loved by our kids. Yesterday as Monica looked up at the pictures of the kids, she talked about how much she loved them. That is such a beautiful attribute. She has given so much time and effort for them. Occasionally she is frustrated with their actions, but they all have a feeling of love and closeness with her. They will always know that their Mother loved them.
1. Monica loves and believes in me. I am so thankful that I always know that Monica loves me. That love has supported me in difficult times.