Sunday musings 08-03-08

The thought occurred to me in Sacrament meeting today that one way to use this blog to participate in the online conversation about the Church is to share some of the doctrinal impressions Cassia and I have during our Sunday meetings. Cassia and I usually record these impressions in the journals we keep with our respective sets of scriptures.

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Following the sacramental prayer on the bread today, Jonathan leaned over to me and whispered, “The sacrament doesn’t nourish us.”  I was surprised by his perceptiveness.  I whispered back, “That’s right.  When we eat the bread and water, it isn’t like eating a meal like dinner.  When we take the bread and water, we do it to remember Jesus.”

Whenever we say a prayer over a meal, we typically include some variation on the phrase “nourish and strengthen” in relation to the desired effect we hope the food will have on our bodies.  In the sacramental prayers, however, the priest asks Heavenly Father to “bless and sanctify” the bread and water “to the souls of all those who partake of it.”  Any nourishment that takes place within those who partake of the sacrament is purely spiritual.

This brief experience impressed three things upon me.  First, Jonathan does in fact listen to the sacramental prayers.  Second, he recognizes the difference between those prayers and our mealtime prayers.  Third, he felt inclined to express his observation of those differences to me in a reverent manner.  I was impressed by the simplicity of his insight and the way in which it provoked further contemplation on my part.

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The Church’s Old Testament Institute manual (specifically, the one covering Genesis-1 Samuel) contains an excellent introduction to Hebrew literary styles, particularly the different forms of parallelism contained in ancient scripture.  One form of parallelism, called chiasmus or “inverted” parallelism, arranges ideas in a palindrome-like sequence, e.g., A-B-C-D-E-F-F-E-D-C-B-A.  The name “chiasmus” comes from the Greek letter chi (resembling an X in the English language) because drawing two lines to connect the nested parallelisms written in a vertical manner looks like an X.

There’s much, much more to be said about this kind of literary style (read Enrichment G, linked above, and John Welch’s outstanding BYU Studies article about its presence in the Book of Mormon, for more information), but this simple introduction should suffice for now.

Perhaps the most famous example of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon is Alma 36.  The entire chapter is one long chiasm.  Try it: look at the first and last verses of the chapter and see if they look similar, then work your way up from there.  The center of a chiasm is generally intended to be the most important principle the author wished to convey.  So . . . what do you think the most important principle is in Alma 36?  Trace the chiasm and see if your answer agrees with Alma’s.

I mapped the chiasm in Alma 36 several years ago, but during Gospel Doctrine today I re-did the whole thing in my journal, and uncovered an additional principle to add to my nested list.  It was a good experience for me.

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In our discussion of the oath and covenant of the priesthood (D&C 84:33–41) today, I was struck by the fact that the word “receive” appears 11 times in verses 35-41.  I think that in a gospel context, the word has greater meaning than simply getting something from someone else.  Consider how it’s employed in the ordinance of confirmation: “receive the Holy Ghost.”  The word is also used in the language of the sealing ceremony in the temple.  Both instances imply a kind of embracing or deep reverential respect for the other.  So it would seem then that “receiving the priesthood” is an act that goes far beyond the act of having hands placed in your head and hearing the words of one conferring authority.  Indeed, it may be appropriate to say that “receiving the priesthood” is a lifelong activity, much like receiving the Holy Ghost or receiving our spouse.

I just found a statement by Spencer W. Kimball that I believe corroborates this sentiment:

The Lord has made clear that they who receive his priesthood receive him. And I think that means more than just sitting in a chair and having somebody put his hands upon your head. I think when you receive it, you accept it. You do not just merely sit. ‘And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.’ Can you imagine anything greater? Shouldn’t we be frightened, almost awed as we contemplate the honor we have and the responsibility we have that has come from the oath and the covenant” (Kimball, in Stockholm Sweden Area Conference Report 1974, 100).

Also, what is the difference between an oath and a covenant?  A covenant is a solemn promise or obligation between two parties; in the gospel sense it is an agreement between God and man, where God sets the terms and man agrees to abide by them.  An oath is a sworn affirmation that we will keep our promise.  (Examples: Nephi promised to spare Zoram’s life, and sealed that promise with an oath.  Moroni wanted Zerahemnah and his army to lay down their weapons of war and depart with an oath that they would never again come to war against the Nephites; Zerahemnah was unwilling to make that oath, because it was a promise he knew he and his men would break.)  In ancient times, an oath was the most solemn promise a person could make, and abiding by one’s oath was esteemed more important than the preservation of one’s life.  Nowadays, unfortunately, we give out promises like candy, and so they have become almost useless to us.

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