For nearly two years I have not been able to eat wheat or anything containing gluten due to severe allergies. As a result of this, I have had to make other arrangements at church in order to partake of the sacrament. Every Sunday at church we follow Jesus Christ’s example which He set during the Last Supper. A worthy priesthood holder breaks bread and blesses it. We each partake of this symbolic representation of Jesus’ body and while doing so, we renew special covenants and promises which we made at baptism, to follow God’s commandments and always remember Him. We repeat the same process with water, as a representation of Jesus Christ’s blood, which was shed for each of us. It is a deeply symbolic and sacred part of our Sunday worship.
There are a handful of other people in my ward who have similar issues as myself with gluten intolerance and other dietary restrictions, so it was decided the best way to accommodate everyone’s needs would be to bless and pass a broken rice cake to those who are unable to partake of the bread. The young man passing this special tray knows who in the congregation needs the alternative sacrament and comes to each of us individually. The system typically works well. I am able to partake of the sacrament, and don’t feel that I am causing a serious commotion during this most sacred part of the meeting.
Today the meaning of the sacrament took on more significance to me in a way that took me by surprise.
I had not been able to partake of the sacrament now for the last three weeks. The first week was General Conference weekend, which meant our worship service was broadcast to the entire world from the church headquarters in Salt Lake City. We do not participate in the ordinance of the sacrament that week. The third week was stake conference, a more regional conference but still large enough that the ordinance is not administered. The week in between was the problem. For the first time, I was forgotten. I sat quietly, reflecting as I waited for the special tray to be brought to me, but by the time I realized it wasn’t coming the young men had already moved on to the water. I did not know how to bring the inadvertent omission to anyone’s attention without causing a scene. So I did not say anything. I took the water and tried to make my internal prayer even more meaningful. I thought to myself, what’s the difference? I got the water, at any rate, and my prayers were fervent and sincere. Surely that would be good enough. Besides, it was only one week.
But something was different. I did not feel it or consciously notice the absence until I woke this morning, my back seized in painful muscle spasms. I needed to stay in bed. Physically, the pain of moving around was excruciating. But I couldn’t stay in bed, no matter how much I wanted to. In an almost panicked resolution, I knew that I needed to go. I couldn’t miss another week of partaking of the sacrament.
My husband helped get the kids ready for church and kept asking, “Are you sure you want to go?” every time I cried out in pain. But I had to go. I cried all the way to church, struggling to stay upright in my seat as I drove. My son sitting next to me asked, “Why are you going if you are hurting that much?”
“I have to take the sacrament,” I wheezed out. I could only speak in brief intervals because talking hurt too much. I didn’t elaborate and my son looked confused.
At church I sat stiffly on my bench, waiting for the sacrament to be administered. My husband kept our young children from climbing on me after he saw the painful expression on my face. I just had to get through the first fifteen minutes of the meeting, since that was when the sacrament would be passed.
We sang the sacrament hymn, and as I sang about the Savior and His atoning sacrifice, the words washed over me. His pain, the agony of both body and spirit, overwhelmed me with the thought of its magnitude. And as the young men proceeded to pass the bread around, distributing the emblem of the Savior’s body, I began to panic. What if I was forgotten again? Tears of worry and stress streamed down my face. I had gone through so much to be here today, but what if it was all in vain? Then suddenly my special tray was placed before me. More tears flooded my eyes as reaching out, I took the broken piece of rice cake, an emblem not only of Jesus Christ’s body but the ultimate symbol of His love for us. His love for ME.
I will never be able to fully comprehend what my elder brother and Savior did for me that day two thousand years ago while kneeling in Gethsemane. I will never have to feel as broken, hurt, or alone as He did while hanging on the cross. But I do get to experience how it feels to be so profoundly loved that He would endure all of that for me. As I sat on my bench this morning, with tears of gratitude and love cascading down my face, I realized that partaking of the sacrament did not just give me the opportunity to renew my covenants and resolve to do better. It gave me the chance to feel the Savior’s love for me in the most sacred and profound manner imaginable. He did this for everyone, yes. But even more significantly, He did this for ME. How could I ever let an opportunity pass to experience that love again and again, every week?
I left after the sacrament was administered, unable to sit any longer. But even though I was struggling with a painful situation at that moment, I knew that I was not alone. My pain, my hurts, my grief, my fears….all were known by a loving Father in Heaven. And that made all the difference.
My name is Heather.
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