When Jesus visited the American continent following His death and resurrection, He introduced the sacrament. Breaking and blessing bread, He told the people to eat in remembrance of His body. Passing a cup of wine, He told them to drink in remembrance of His blood. After the people ate the bread and drank the wine, “they were filled” (3 Nephi 18:1-11).
The following day, Jesus again gave the people bread to eat and wine to drink (3 Nephi 20:3-7). On that occasion, He instructed them further about what they were doing:
He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled (3 Nephi 20:8).
This statement is reminiscent of one of the Beatitudes, which Jesus had shared with them the day before: “Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost” (3 Nephi 12:6).
Near the end of the Book of Mormon, we read the words of the sacrament prayers. In both of the prayers, we ask Heavenly Father to “bless and sanctify” the bread or the wine “to the souls of all those who partake [or drink] of it” (Moroni 4:3, Moroni 5:2). Once again, we are told that the sacrament is for the soul.
What does it mean to eat and drink the bread and water to our souls?
Early in His mortal ministry, Jesus preached a sermon which was disturbing to some. Speaking to a group of people who had eaten some bread and fishes He had miraculously multiplied, He said, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life” (John 6:27). What was that food which would last forever? “I am the bread of life,” He said. “He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Then, He made the imagery a little more vivid:
Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.
As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me (John 6:54-56).
This imagery was too much for some of His disciples, who “went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66). But it was not inconsistent with the metaphors He used on other occasions. For example, to the Samaritan woman at the well, He said, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).
Internalizing the Savior’s teachings is the goal. Becoming one with Him and with His Father is the goal. Adopting His attributes and character is what our discipleship is all about. Eating and drinking is an appropriate symbol for what we are trying to do. We ask God to bless and sanctify the bread and water to our souls because those sacramental emblems are symbolic of something much more important: our desire to “put on Christ:” to adopt His attributes, to emulate His actions, to become like Him (Galatians 3:27).
This Sunday, as I partake of the sacrament, I will remember what the act of eating and drinking represent. I will strive to eat and drink to my soul—to participate fully in an activity which can satisfy my spiritual hunger and thirst and lead me toward eternal life.