The small bus that served as both hearse and family transport vehicle slowed to a stop in the middle of the cemetery. My first observation was how lovely it was, in a wild unkept sort of way. We stood on the road as the small wooden casket was pulled from the bus floor and lowered onto a cart. We walked behind the caretakers as the cart was pushed away from the bus and into the plots.
As we walked we passed several small picnic type tables along the road. Chad and I wondered to each other what the purpose of those might be.
We were part of the small company at the request of Marina, whose mother Zoya had passed away. Though Marina was not a member of the LDS Church we had become quick friends during our gospel discussions and time spent together eating, playing games, and enjoying each other’s musical gifts, in both our home and hers. She had asked if we would please come and sing some of our hymns at her mother’s graveside. We were surprised and honored at her invitation. We wanted to do what we could to show our love and support at this sad time, so were pleased to oblige.
After the casket was lowered, we sang around the grave as the caretakers piled shovels full of dirt into the hole. Though Marina spoke excellent English most of the group did not and we wanted them to understand the beautiful messages of hope in the hymns, so we did our best in our very broken Russian.
When the grave was filled and mounded high we helped her place the flowers on top, along with several thin yellow candles that had been used in the service at the small cathedral just a couple hours earlier. We visited with Marina at the grave side about the eternal nature of families, the important part they play in Heavenly Father’s plan for His children, and comforted her as she mourned.
A new, yet familiar custom
As we walked from the grave we saw that the others in our group were gathered around one of the roadside tables where they had laid out a typical Russian meal of bread, sausage and cheese, cucumbers, some fruit, and juice.
As they passed the food to us Marina explained it was customary for Russians to have a small meal at the burial of a loved one. Doing so, she said, would help them internalized the experience. They would better remember the loved one. In a way, the departed would become part of them.
Though it began to rain lightly we continued standing around the table. The entire meal must be consumed she said. In this way we “will always remember them and they will always be with us”. My husband and I looked at each other and smiled in recognition.
On the way back into Moscow we passed out some hymnals we had brought with us and the entire Russian Orthodox group sang the hymns of Zion. The little bus was filled with messages of the hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is an experience I shall never forget.
Chad and I had only been in the country (and on our mission) for just over three months. We were delighting in each new custom and tradition discovered. But this tradition – eating food as a symbol of a deceased loved one to keep them close throughout life – was an especially interesting one. And we felt sure it was rooted in the original gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Symbolism of the Sacrament
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of they Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his spirit to be with them. Amen. 
Elder D. Todd Christofferson addressed the eternal necessity of the ordinance of the sacrament and the symbolism of its emblems in his wonderful talk “The Living Bread Which Came Down from Heaven” He explained:
“To eat His flesh and drink His blood is a striking way of expressing how completely we must bring the Savior into our life—into our very being—that we may be one. How does this happen?
First, we understand that in sacrificing His flesh and blood, Jesus atoned for our sins and overcame death, both physical and spiritual. Clearly, then, we partake of His flesh and drink His blood it is when we receive from Him the power and blessings of His Atonement.” 
Each of us have very different temptations, sins, and weaknesses. We each struggle with unique burdens, heartaches, and pain. But the sincere and penitent taking of the sacrament offers the exact same benefit to every one of us. The forgiving of sin. The lifting of burden. The spiritual encouragement to soldier on. The hope of a new start. And the assurance of immortality for ourselves and our loved ones. Though individualized it is one promise, one power, one blessing fits all. It’s miraculous.
“…because it is broken and torn, each piece of bread is unique, just as the individuals who partake of it are unique. We all have different sins to repent of. We all have different needs to be strengthened through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we remember in this ordinance.” ~Elder Dallin H. Oaks 
Once cleansed and lifted we are ready for the next step in internalizing him and becoming more like him.
“I have spoken of receiving the Savior’s atoning grace to take away our sins and the stain of those sins in us. But figuratively eating His flesh and drinking His blood has a further meaning, and that is to internalize the qualities and character of Christ, putting off the natural man and becoming Saints “through the atonement of Christ the Lord.” As we partake of the sacramental bread and water each week, we would do well to consider how fully and completely we must incorporate His character and the pattern of His sinless life into our life and being.” 
Heads up: It is not enough to just repent of sin. We must replace sinful behavior with Christ-like behavior. We must change. Change what we would do, how we would act, or the way we would respond to what He would do, how He would act, and respond in the way He would.
Thankfully perfection, though our goal, is not required of us in this life. But what is required is that we are continually moving in the direction of becoming like the Savior. No matter the pace.
“Partaking of the Savior’s flesh and drinking His blood means to put out of our lives anything inconsistent with a Christlike character and to make His attributes our own. This is the larger meaning of repentance: not only a turning away from past sin but also “a turning of the heart and will to God” going forward. As happened with my friend in his revelatory dream, God will show us our flaws and failings, but He will also help us turn weakness into strength. If we sincerely ask, “What lack I yet?” He will not leave us to guess, but in love He will answer for the sake of our happiness. And He will give us hope.” 
He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. 
Thoughtfully partaking of the sacrament each week is an essential tool in our becoming like the Savior and qualifying for eternal life. As we eat the bread and drink the water, symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, we invite Him to become part of us. We offer to give up who we were and become “a new creature” in Christ.  We show our desire to “always remember him…that [we] may have his spirit to be with [us]”. 
 Prayer on the sacramental bread found in Doctrine & Covenants 20:77.
 “The Living Bread Which Came Down from Heaven”, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, 187th Semiannual General Conference, October 2017
 Dallin H. Oaks, “Introductory Message” (address given at the seminar for new mission presidents, June 25, 2017), 2.
 John 6:56
 2 Corinthians 5:17
 Doctrine & Covenants 20:77