1. Get Inspired Introspection
In His sacrament—and in all the other ordinances—the Lord gives us glimpses of ourselves. In self-examination we are most blessed when we begin to see ourselves as we are seen by Him and know ourselves as we are known by Him (see D&C 76:94). Knowledge of the Savior and self-knowledge flow together. “Let a man examine himself,” Paul counseled (1 Corinthians 11:28). . . .
Whatever our present soul-sicknesses, the Savior sees beyond them. He knows our glorious past—who we were in the premortal spheres. And He can and does envision our destiny and what we are to become. In contrast, we live under the blur of amnesia of our past, and we are subject to fits of blindness and disbelief about our real potential. Said George Q. Cannon:
Now, this is the truth. We humble people, we who feel ourselves sometimes so worthless, so good-for-nothing, we are not so worthless as we think. There is not one of us but what God’s love has been expended upon. There is not one of us that He has not cared for and caressed. There is not one of us that He has not desired to save and that He has not devised means to save. There is not one of us that He has not given His angels charge concerning.
We may be insignificant and contemptible in our own eyes and in the eyes of others, but the truth remains that we are children of God and that He has actually given His angels . . . charge concerning us, and they watch over us and have us in their keeping.
2. Use Your Imagination
We may not be able to fully conceive or comprehend all that happened in Gethsemane and on the cross and the Resurrection. But we can imagine. The power of such imagination has been described by one of our leaders—Joseph Fielding Smith:
If we could picture before us—as I have tried many times to do— if we could see the Savior of men suffering in the garden and upon the cross and could fully realize all that it meant to us, we would desire to keep His commandments and we would love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our might, mind and strength and in the name of Jesus Christ would serve Him.
Imagination is inclusive of the whole range of human awareness, including feeling-tones. Jesus’s life and likewise His teachings are a series of images—concrete, pictorial, vivid. His parables are all imagistic—narratives, stories, using familiar objects, animals, places, things, in an unfamiliar way. His images are drenched with feeling, as if He is pleading, “Can you picture that? Can you feel that? Can you respond to that?”
His appeal to our image-making capacity requires more of us than conceptions in the mind, which can be cold and passionless. Imagination is a prime attribute of the truly repentant and religious man. If it fails us we are spiritually impoverished and can only be “cured” by actual occasions of suffering, and then by accurate memory. For “all will suffer until they obey Christ Himself.” In the end, weak or insipid imagination limits our access to the Atonement. . . .
3. Focus on Repenting, Not Forgetting
Repentance is not, in our weak and double-minded moments, as we fervently wish—it is not just a matter of forgetting. “If only I could wipe out the memory . . . I would be free.”
Not so. If one takes poison, he may receive forgiveness from everyone, even himself. But the poison is still there, still festering. It requires an antidote. The longer we wait, and the longer we continue the intake, the more desperate our condition.
We know, from the scriptures, that one day we will have “a bright recollection of all our guilt” (Alma 11:43). We will remember all that we have forgotten, including all that we have worked hard to forget. In the language of a shrewd observer: “‘I did that,’ says my memory. ‘I could not have done that,’ says my conscience. Eventually the memory yields.” He will read our hearts—every trace recorded of the long, hard journey—with abiding understanding. He knows our sins accurately and intimately. He wrote them on His own inner world in Gethsemane. He willingly exposed Himself to the identical feelings of abandonment, guilt, and darkness.
Yet He mastered them because He gave no heed to the temptations that have lured us and mired us and become monkeys on our back. But if we have repented through Christ and been purged through His power, the future memory flood will not be bitter or tormenting. It will instead be a welter of gratitude for healed sores, for the pain that is gone, for the relief that has replaced our divided and mud-spattered and guilty self.
4. Focus on the Lamb
In Nephi’s interchange with the angel, a vision of the future redemptive life of Jesus was given. Not fewer than 50 times the angel uses the name/title “Lamb” for Christ (see 1 Nephi 11–14). A lamb is frisky, impulsive, easily misled. It is vulnerable to the ravages of climate, the predatory wolf, and the jackal. Other hazards are the waterless desert, separation, and dangers that lurk at night outside the fold.
Why, of all things, would Jesus be named a lamb? Because He is the classic example of weak things becoming strong in the hand of God. From infancy as a lambkin to the triumphal Lamb, he “[overcame] the world” (John 16:33). He was the Lamb preappointed to be slain “from before the foundation of the world” (Moses 5:57). And then to triumph. “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion” (Revelation 14:1).
At the peak of our communion in temple dedications, we cry out a prayer of redemption. We cry to the one invincible source for our overcoming mortality and inheriting Jesus’s high privileges. We do not shout hosanna to God alone, but hosanna “to God and the Lamb” (D&C 76:119; see also verses 21, 39, 85). His lamb. Our lamb.
When is He most powerful in enabling us to overcome? When we become lamblike. This is a quiet and private miracle. It is the encounter of those who truly know themselves and know their Shepherd. It is possible because the Lamb is the leading Shepherd. All lambs who follow Him, as they are guided by Him, become shepherds and shepherdesses. Otherwise we tend to wander and wonder in vain, and we miss the brighter tones of life. And of love. And of light. . . .
5. Think about Renewing and Being Renewed
It is a truism among us that we partake of the sacrament, as we also return to the temple, to renew our covenants. That is needful. It is also sometimes daunting. As President David O. McKay said: Who can measure the responsibility of such a covenant? How far reaching! How comprehensive! It excludes from man’s life, profanity, vulgarity, idleness, enmity, jealousy, drunkenness, dishonesty, hatred, selfishness, and every form of vice.
It obligates one to sobriety, to industry, to kindness, to the performance of every duty in church and state. He binds himself to respect his fellowmen, to honor the Priesthood, to pay his tithes and offerings and to consecrate his life to the service of humanity.
No wonder we may feel to shrink. A little voice in us says, “I’d better not do that. How can I ever carry it through?” But this is the nub of our stumbling block: Until we covenant—which is more than a casual and more or less flippant New Year’s resolution—He cannot bless us to keep our covenants—any or all.
Without exception, the Lord appends a divine blessing to each covenant we keep. Every covenant guarantees a response from on high. In the Church of Jesus Christ, well-executed duties expand into privileges, and privileges expand into higher duties. The most inclusive attendant blessing of the sacrament is His Spirit. The gifts and fruits of the Spirit engulf all our deepest needs: insight, flashes of guidance, energy—all the virtues that center in Christ, and through them all the fire that purifies our feelings and our aspirations. So, yes, we come to renew covenants. But we also come to be renewed—renewed with a divine infusion. Then we increase in strength to honor our pledges with Him and with each other.
Learn more insights about the sacrament in Sacramental Reflections, sold at deseretbook.com.
These devotional reflections from the heart of Truman Madsen can help bring you face-to-face with yourself as you prepare to meet Christ at the sacrament table each week. We love the beautiful, new insights about the sacrament within the pages of this book. If you're hoping to understand the sacrament or simply come closer to your Savior, this book is perfect for you.