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What might the disciples have thought about during the Last Supper? Exploring ways to find meaning in the sacrament

by | May 17, 2021

One afternoon, I walked into my son’s room and saw him quietly playing. I could tell that he was engaged in an imaginary game but couldn’t quite tell what was going on. He had flipped his toddler chair to form a table and then he had carefully laid a book on top.

What he said next stopped me in my tracks. He carefully folded his little arms and bowed his head and said in his sweet little voice, “Oh God, please bless this bread.” He then handed me the book which served as a makeshift tray. 

He had been watching and learning. Whether it was at church or at home, the beauty of the sacrament had not been lost on this little boy. 

My son and I have a lot in common: in so many ways we both are just beginning our journey to truly grasp what the sacrament means to us.

The Disciples at the Last Supper

Though I was not present at that sacred scene of the Last Supper, I like to imagine what tender feelings His closest friends and disciples might have had at that time. These were not only men who had followed Him during His earthly ministry—these were His friends. They had been firsthand witnesses to His divinity and mission.  

When Christ blessed the bread and then the water and gave it to them, did these humble men understand what Christ was doing? Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained the significance of the moment: “The setting was Jerusalem. The season was that of the Passover, a celebration rich in symbolism for what was about to come. Long ago the troubled and enslaved Israelites had been ‘passed over,’ spared, finally made free by the blood of a lamb sprinkled on the lintel and doorposts of their Egyptian homes . . . Now, after all those years and all those prophecies and all those symbolic offerings, the type and shadow was to become reality. On this night when Jesus’ mortal ministry was concluding, the declaration made by John the Baptist when that ministry had begun now meant more than ever—‘Behold the Lamb of God.’”

Although no one can be certain what these early disciples were thinking on this most important night, perhaps the emblems reminded them of some of the moments they had personally experienced with Christ.

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The Disciples’ Reflection

Perhaps as He broke the bread they remembered when He had done the impossible and fed the 5,000 with only five loaves. Or maybe it brought back memories of how He looked as He sat teaching the people the parable of the wheat and tares. 

When He blessed the cup of wine, did they think of that miraculous experience where Christ performed His first miracle and turned water into wine? Or maybe their thoughts turned to when they heard Him counsel, “Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved” (Matthew 9:17).

Perhaps they remembered even more personal memories they had with Christ. Experiences not recorded in our canonized scripture, for surely there must have been countless other miracles and memories. These faithful disciples were with Christ during His short but earth-shattering ministry, but did they understand what this sacramental meal was pointing toward? Did they see that these emblems were pointing to Christ’s intimate and infinite Atonement? 

The Meaning in the Symbols

Within hours Christ would leave this sacramental setting and begin the unimaginable. He would take upon Him the pains, sins, and sicknesses of His people. Through His broken body and by His precious drops of blood, Christ gave eternal meaning to that sacramental meal. If the Last Supper had occurred without the unimaginable experiences in Gethsemane and on the cross, these symbols would not have powerful meaning. 

But they do have meaning: These symbols point to Christ. They point towards not only His matchless life but also to the purpose of His life. “He instituted the sacrament as a reminder of His great atoning sacrifice” (“The Living Christ,” 2000). These emblems both remind us of Christ’s Atonement and give us access to the power that comes because of His loving sacrifice. 

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The Meaning in Our Lives

Though the symbol of bread and water is something we can experience each Sunday, Christ as the master teacher can change our perspective week by week. Isn’t it remarkable that two simple symbols can take on an infinite number of personal meanings? Like the disciples of old may have done, we too can reflect on experiences where Christ has personally changed us. Here are some questions I’ve found helpful to ponder during the sacrament:

  1. What does Christ’s life and His Atonement mean to me? 
  2. What do the bread and water represent to me? 
  3. How can I have more personal experiences with Christ?
  4. What do I need to repent of and how can I become more of a Christlike person?
  5. How can I show more love and mercy to those around me?
  6. How can I have more faith in Christ and access power through my covenants?

I love President Russell M. Nelson’s example of reflecting during the sacrament: “Partaking of the sacrament is a sacred mental process, and as such it becomes a very personal one for me. I think of the covenants being made between me and Deity as the prayers are pronounced. I think of God offering his Only Begotten Son. I think of the atoning sacrifice of my Savior, Jesus Christ. The sacrament was instituted by him. For all mankind, even me, he offered his flesh and blood and designated the bread and the water as symbolic emblems.”

Let us return to my little son and his child-like wonder and reverence. My son is precious and pure. I know that in the future he will make mistakes, sin, stumble, and fall. I pray that he will always think of Christ, the perfect Son who willingly bore the collective weight of mankind’s sins. I pray that he will think of Christ’s disciples who were imperfect people doing their best to follow Christ and that we too as imperfect people can change and progress. I hope we will both never cease to be amazed by the love of Heavenly Father and for the obedience of His perfect Son.  

As the sacrament becomes a revelatory and strengthening experience we too can come to say, “Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Lead image: ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
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