3 Nephi 18: 5:
“And when the multitude had eaten and were filled, he said unto the Disciples: Behold there shall one be ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name.”
Notice now the “multitude” takes part in eating the bread and “were filled.” This raises the question of how they were filled. Were their stomachs filled because of the amount they ate? Did they eat until they were filled, or did they get filled on just a small amount of bread? Or was this a spiritual filling where each heart was touched and each person’s countenance before the Lord filled with light?
This is a group which has just a few hours before engaged in a “hosanna shout” before the Lord. (3 Nephi 11: 17.) Now, however, they are “filled.” It is a profound moment with deep significance.
The Lord then tells the disciples that “there shall be one ordained among you” to break the bread. Notice it is “one.” All twelve have been asked to pass the sacrament to the multitude, but from among them “shall one be ordained” to receive “power that he shall break bread and bless it.” Why would only “one” be chosen to do this? All twelve had been given the power to baptize. (3 Nephi 11: 21-22.) Only one of them is to bless the sacrament. What does that suggest about the sanctity of the sacrament, if it is performed in the correct manner? Should it be viewed as a “higher ordinance” because of the more exclusive reservation of the “power” conferred by the Lord? What does that tell us about the manner we ought to proceed? Have we missed something in our reading of these verses?
Now the record is written by Nephi. (3 Nephi 1: 2.) He is the first one called by the Lord. (3 Nephi 11: 18.) He is the first one given power to baptize by the Lord. (3 Nephi 11: 18-21.) But the identity of the person given “power that he shall break bread and bless it” is not recorded. We can know it is Nephi because he was always the one given the other power first. More to the point, however, we can know it was him because he kept the record. Had it been another, he would have told us. But since it was him, he declined to draw further attention to himself. Identifying himself previously was necessary for the narrative to be complete. Here, however, identifying himself would call undue attention. As a humble follower of Christ, it was not appropriate for him to do so, therefore the disciple is unnamed in our account.
Why is “power [to] break bread and bless it” conferred separately from the power to baptize? In our Section 20, the authority is coextensive. (See D&C 20: 38-39, 46.) Why does the Lord separate it among the Nephites? Since we have this account, does it add any instruction for us about the significance of the sacrament?
Sometimes we neglect things because of our familiarity with them. We presume wrongly that we understand them because of their frequent repetition. Here, however, the sacrament seems to take on greater significance. It achieves a pinnacle that exceeds even touching the risen Lord.
When we share food with one another, we become part of the same material. We share substance. When a meal is shared, life is shared. We become one of the same substance.
The substance which binds us is the “body of Christ” in symbol. Christ “broke” the bread before it was blessed. What does breaking the bread symbolize about Christ? How is His broken body intended to unite us with one another, and with Him?
Why is the broken bread distributed to those who “shall believe and be baptized in my name?” Does the order matter? Can a person be baptized before they believe, later come to believe, and then receive the sacrament correctly? Or must they come to believe first, then receive baptism second, before it is proper to partake of the sacrament? We’ve been working our way through the Lord’s commandments deliberately trying to unlock their specific requirements. They are simple. They can be done by anyone. But they are specific and should be followed in the same manner the Lord instituted them. This is the “straight path” which He says is narrow and few will find. Perhaps it is not found because we proceed with inexactitude to do what He has laid out before us with exactness.
The Lord occupies the role as Master and as Example. He bids us to follow Him. And He tells us His way is plain. If we confuse it, muddle it, and fail to do it as He has asked us to do, then it is not His failure, but ours. He has made it clear that He respects no one, but is open to all. But it is open on the exact terms. And some times the terms are exacting.