Jesus Christ first introduced the sacrament to His Apostles at the Last Supper before His crucifixion. After His Resurrection, He also introduced it to the Nephites. By establishing this ordinance among both sets of His disciples, Christ showed us the importance of partaking of the sacrament.
Elder David B. Haight stated that "partaking of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is one of the most sacred ordinances of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is further indication of His love for all of us” (“The Sacrament,” Ensign, May 1983). As it is such an important ordinance, it is vital that we strive to understand the significance of the sacrament and how it shows God’s love for us. But just as importantly, we need to teach our children about the sacredness of the sacrament. Though they won’t understand the meaning behind the sacrament at the level we do, if we start teaching them now, it will lay the foundation for their testimony of Jesus Christ, His Atonement, and the sacrament. Here are three ways to start:
1. Teach about the sacrament before sacrament meeting.
We know that God has given parents the “sacred duty” to teach their children to “observe the commandments of God” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, November 1995). Principles of the gospel must be taught in the home and then reinforced at church. This includes teaching our children about the sacrament at home, before they participate in the ordinance.
Not only should parents teach their children about the sacrament as an ordinance, but they should also teach their children how to act during the sacrament. They need to be taught that “the sacrament is one ordinance that allows us to experience a personal relationship to God” (David B. Haight, “The Sacrament,” Ensign, May 1983). Family home evening is the perfect time to teach this principle and could perhaps spread over several family nights.
For example, one family home evening lesson can focus on when Christ first introduced the sacrament to His Apostles, while another could focus on how we take the sacrament now. Take time to explain that after Christ was resurrected, He visited the Nephites to introduce the ordinance to them. This shows that God wants all His children to be able to take part in this ordinance.
Having several family home evening lessons on different aspects of the sacrament will help reinforce its importance. Then before church each Sunday, you can remind your children that the sacrament is a time used to build a relationship with the Savior. This simple reminder on your way to the car or on the drive to the meetinghouse can help them start to prepare mentally for taking the sacrament.
Children also need to learn at home how to act during the sacrament. President Spencer W. Kimball stated, “The home is the key to reverence, as it is to every other godlike virtue.” He further explained, “Behavior learned at home determines behavior in Church meetings. A child who has learned to pray at home soon understands that he must be quiet and still during prayers in worship service” (We Should Be a Reverent People, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1976, 2–3). If children have learned how to sit quietly during certain times at home, such as during family home evening lessons, they will be more likely to sit quietly while the sacrament is being passed. It all starts in the home.
2. Encourage reverence, even if your child is not taking the sacrament.
Children who have not been baptized have not yet made the covenants with God that we renew each week when taking the sacrament. But that doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t participate in their own capacity.
In a recent Ensign article, Aaron West explained that “each sacrament meeting can be a sacred practice session for little children as they partake of the emblems of the Savior’s Atonement” (“Little Children and the Sacrament,” Ensign, October 2016). As you teach about baptismal covenants at home and then encourage your children to think about those covenants during the sacrament, they can practice focusing their thoughts on Jesus when they take the bread and water.
Even if children have been taught the symbolism of the sacrament and are practicing for their baptismal covenants, it can be hard for them to keep their thoughts attuned to this sacred moment. Young children can only hold a mental image of Christ for so long before they start to fidget. To help them keep their thoughts on the Savior, have them color a picture from the Friend magazine or look at pictures or books that have images of Jesus or important Church events. These are quiet activities won’t interfere with others’ worship, helps children remember why they’re taking the sacrament, and encourages them to be reverent while the sacrament is being passed.
3. Teach your children the sacrament hymns.
We have been told numerous times that music is an important part of our worship services, even a “vital part of our worship” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament,” Ensign, November 2008).
Elder David B. Haight learned in his youth that to feel the Spirit and “be in harmony” during the sacrament, he needed to sing the sacrament hymns. He stated, “As we personally sang the words, our souls were better prepared to understand this sacred ordinance” (“The Sacrament,” Ensign, May 1983). Singing the hymns and encouraging your children to sing the hymns in sacrament meeting invites the Spirit into our hearts and the hearts of our children. The Spirit can witness to children about the Savior, His mission, and the importance of the sacrament through peaceful and calm feelings.
In the October 2016 general conference, Elder Peter F. Meurs declared, “Music elevates our thoughts and feelings” (“The Sacrament Can Help Us Become Holy,” Ensign, November 2016). And even though children are not going to know every word to every sacrament hymn, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to sing. I’ve seen parents who quickly whisper the words to their children while a note is being held so the children can sing with them. I’ve seen parents point to the words so their children don’t get lost in the song or encourage their children to hum the tune if they’re shy about singing.
Singing sacrament hymns during family home evening is also a great way to help familiarize children with the songs. As they grow, they’ll start to understand the words to the hymns and be able to see how the songs relate to the sacrament. You may even catch your children singing hymns at home, which can help invite the Spirit into their daily lives.
Children probably won’t fully understand the sacrament until they get older. Elder Peter F. Meurs said that when he was young he couldn’t understand the full meaning of the sacrament, but he knew it was special. He stated, “I could feel the calm and reassuring influence of the Holy Ghost” (“The Sacrament Can Help Us Become Holy,” Ensign, November 2016). Even as adults, we’re constantly learning about this sacred ordinance and how it “is the ordinance of the Church that ties most directly to the Atonement” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament,” Ensign, November 2008). Even if we’re only helping our children understand that the sacrament is important, in time they’ll increase their understanding of the sacrament and strengthen their testimony of the Savior. We only need to teach them.
Lead image from Getty Images.
For more on helping your children understand the sacrament, check out Jessica B. Ellingson’s children’s book The Sacrament Is for Me.