In ancient Israel, an essential element of worship was giving gifts to God. Worshippers would bring animals or grain to the temple—the very best they had—to offer as a sacrifice. The King James Version of the Bible most frequently refers to these gifts as “offerings,” but it sometimes calls them “oblations.”
An oblation is a gift given to God. It comes from the Latin prefix ob-, meaning “toward,” “before,” or “near,” and the Latin word latus, meaning “carried” or “borne.” (See “oblation” and “oblate” on the Online Etymological Dictionary.) So the word connotes a gift that is hand-delivered. We draw closer to God as we make the effort to deliver the offering to Him.
As Lehi and his family traveled from Jerusalem to the promised land, they gave offerings to the Lord multiple times as an expression of gratitude. (See 1 Nephi 2:7, 5:9, 7:22.) These offerings must have been a real sacrifice as they traveled in the wilderness, with very few earthly possessions.
Hundreds of years later, when King Benjamin gathered his people at the temple, they brought “the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses; and also that they might give thanks to the Lord their God” (Mosiah 2:3-4).
After the death of Jesus Christ, He specifically commanded His followers on the American continent to change the nature of their gifts to Him:
Ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.3 Nephi 9:19-20
Notice that the Savior did not end the practice of giving offerings, He merely adjusted the list of offerings He would accept. Instead of giving animals, His disciples would now give Him their own hearts and souls.
In August of 1831, the Lord reiterated to a group of believers in Independence, Missouri the offering He expected from them:
Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.Doctrine and Covenants 59:8
Then, He identified a specific time and place for them to offer these gifts:
And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day;
For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;
Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times;
But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.Doctrine and Covenants 59:9-12
We usually speak of the sacrament as something that we “take” or “receive.” A piece of bread and a cup of water are offered to us, and we accept them. But even as we partake of those symbols of the body and the blood of Christ, we are in fact giving Him something. We promise to take upon ourselves His name, to always remember Him, and to keep His commandments. We may also make personalized commitments, as we ponder our lives and determine how we can more fully follow Him. With this understanding, it does seem appropriate to speak of the sacrament as something we offer to God, even as it is offered to us.
During the past year, many of us have partaken of the sacrament in our homes. The global pandemic limited our ability to gather and made that necessary. As many of us are now able to gather again, we might think about the symbolism of an oblation: a gift that we not only offer to God, but that we physically deliver to Him. The very act of gathering in His holy house on His holy day gives the offering special meaning.
Today I will consider what oblations I will offer to the Lord as I attend church meetings and partake of the sacrament. I will particularly strive to give Him the gifts He has requested: a broken heart and a contrite spirit.