Even before rescuing the children of Israel from bondage, the Lord prescribed for them formal actions they should take each year to commemorate their deliverance. They should select a lamb, not just any lamb, but an unblemished male lamb in its first year. They should roast it with fire (not boil it) and eat it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. They should eat quickly, with their shoes on and with their staff in their hand. “And this day shall be unto you for a memorial,” He said, “and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever” (Exodus 12:14).
He explained to them that this set of formal actions would not only help them remember the event but would enable them to pass it along to their children:
When your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service?
That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses.Exodus 12:26-27; see also Exodus 13:14
In the King James Version, the Lord uses the words “service,” “ordinance,” and “memorial” to describe how He wants the children of Israel to commemorate this event. Other Bible translations use words like “ceremony,” “rite,” “ritual,” or “observance.” (See Exodus 12:26 on biblehub.com.)
In the Book of Mormon, Nephi referred to these kinds of prescribed worship activities as “performances and ordinances:”
Ye must keep the performances and ordinances of God until the law shall be fulfilled which was given unto Moses.2 Nephi 25:30
Abinadi also described the law of Moses as “a law of performances and ordinances” and indicated that their purpose was “to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him” (Mosiah 13:30).
Not everyone saw the value in these apparently arbitrary activities. Korihor, in fact, accused the priests of sinister motives: “to usurp power and authority over [the people], to keep them in ignorance, that they may not lift up their heads, but be brought down according to thy words” (Alma 30:23). But Alma responded that church members participated willingly in these activities and found joy in them. (See Alma 30:34-35).
After the Savior visited the American continent, Mormon tells us that the people “did not walk any more after the performances and ordinances of the law of Moses.” Instead, they followed a new set of instructions they had received from Him, including fasting, praying, and meeting together often (4 Nephi 1:12).
From all of these passages, I have learned the following:
- Prescribed repetitive actions can help us remember important events and principles.
- They can also create opportunities to teach our children.
- People who don’t understand may question the value of religious activities.
- God may change the nature of our worship activities from time to time.
Today, I will be grateful for the “performances and ordinances” in my life, including prayer, fasting, and partaking of the sacrament each Sunday. I will be grateful that consistent participation in these activities helps me remember my priorities and provides opportunities to teach others, including my children.