The Infinite and Intimate Atonement

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is a central doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is one which we learn very early on in our learning within the Gospel and yet it is one which we will never fully understand. This stood out to me whilst I was serving my mission and we were instructed by our Mission President and his wife.

We know that Christ had to suffer for our sins. It was vital in our Heavenly Father’s plan if we were to have our agency. In Alma 34:15 it says “And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.” Here we learn that in order to have justice executed perfectly but in a way that we can receive mercy and forgiveness, a sacrifice of suffering – or an Atonement – had to take place (see also Alma 42:15).

Now we have learnt why the suffering had to occur, why did it go on for so long? In the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, and why so severe? It has been estimated looking at timings in the Bible that Christ suffered for 6-7 hours in the Garden and about 6 hours on the cross – why so long? Surely if he had said concerning his own life “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” (John 10:18) – then why did He go on for so long in so much pain?

Here is a verse which began to change my understanding:
“Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice.” (Mosiah 15:9). Here, Abinadi states the Saviour is the only One standing between us and the cold clasp of justice – without Him, we’d be lost. He did it. He satisfied the demands of justice so that we could avoid the intense punishment He went through – a powerful verse but that is not all! Abinadi continues:
“…Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed…And who shall be his seed?
Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord—I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God.” (Mosiah 15:10-11)

Christ saw us! As He went through our pains, afflictions and the consequences of our sins, He saw us – what we individually would go through and have done (those who have accepted Him and will accept Him). He went through and endured our deepest, darkest moments so that, when we come to Him He can give us rest. He has known exactly how we feel and knows how to remedy it.

If we are to accept the Atonement in our lives, our understanding of it needs to constantly be developing – this understanding added onto what I understood before. It brought a much deeper recognition of the personal and infinite nature of the Atonement. What if Christ had not completed the Atonement? I would be completely lost without it – I could never accomplish what I need to in this life on my own! “…there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” (Mosiah 3:17) – it is only through His Gospel that we can be saved!

 

 

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Communion through the Sacrament

As has been stated a number of times recently by General Authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the weekly sacrament meeting is considered to be one of the most sacred, important and potentially life-changing meetings conducted in the Church. On my mission, I still did not appreciate how this was so until studying 3 Nephi 18. I still probably don’t fully understand but I have some more thoughts now…

The first thing I noticed is the use of the phrase ‘filled’ in 3 Nephi 18. For example: “And it came to pass that they did…drink of it and were filled…” (3 Nephi 18:9). Of course, this isn’t referring to a physical filling – the Nephites were being filled with the Spirit of the Lord, something we can feel if we partake of the sacrament in the way it’s meant to be. This sheds some light on what Christ meant when He told the Samaritan woman “…whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst…” (John 4:14). Christ was speaking of a spiritual fulfillment – a filling of the Spirit which, if we stay worthy of it, will never leave us. As we prepare for the sacrament each Sunday, we can receive this filling. But do we?

President David O. Mckay taught there are “…three things fundamentally important associated with the administration of the sacrament.” He continued by saying ” The first is self-discernment…we should partake worthily, each one examining himself…” We should not be surprised if when partaking of the sacrament we do not feel a spiritual filling or satisfaction if we have not fully repented or confessed to the Lord our recognition of our faults in the week. This applies to all transgressions, even ones we may consider ‘smaller’ or less significant; sin is sin. If we pray to the Lord consistently through the week to ask for forgiveness then it should be no surprise that when the culmination of this repentance process happens (the sacrament – the renewal) then we will feel the Spirit more strongly.

“Secondly, there is a covenant made…” – remember how important that statement is. We are make a two way promise (or rather, renewing all our promises ever made with God) when we partake of the sacrament. That is not something to be taken lightly. Of course, we will fail to fully live up to all our covenants, but that is why the sacrament is a weekly event. And this is when we start to see how vital to our spiritual strength the sacrament should be.

However, the third fundamental principle of the sacrament stood out most to me. “Thirdly…a sense of close relationship with the Lord. There is an opportunity to commune with oneself and to commune with the Lord.” What an experience that could be – to commune with the Lord! “Let us make that sacrament hour one of the most impressive means of coming in contact with God’s spirit. Let the Holy Ghost…lead us into his presence, and may we sense that nearness…” In Catholicism, there is an event in a Catholic’s regular worship called The Holy Communion. I have attended a Communion and it is similar in principle to our sacrament – both of course based on the Lord’s Last Supper. Whilst we have a number of differences in belief and practice, I do like the name that Catholicism has chosen for this event. Through the sacrament, we can (we should) come closest to communing with God in those precious moments. Picture the sacrament ordinance for a moment (remembering as well it is a sacred ordinance, officiated by priesthood authority). The emblems carried in the trays are symbolic – emblems, even – of Christ’s body and blood. When we partake of the sacrament, we are mirroring the Nephites who came forward in 3 Nephi 11 and felt the prints of the nails in His hand. Whilst in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we don’t believe these emblems metamorphisise into Christ’s actual flesh and blood, we do believe they are partaken as a representation of His body and blood.

I have occasionally wondered what it would have been like to be present when the Nephites had the opportunity to go (one-by-one) and partake in feeling Christ’s sacrifice. Now I realise I don’t have to. I should know what spiritual filling they received IF I partake of the sacrament worthily, recognising the covenants I am renewing and trying to break to the veil to commune with my Father in Heaven. Will this happen every week? Probably not (particularly with my 3 year old son and 1 year old daughter). However, it CAN happen and how complete would our life be if we could sense that presence and renewal to it’s fullest extent each and every Sabbath? That, is why the sacrament is so important!