Through the restoration of priesthood keys in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836  by Moses, who held the keys of the gathering of Israel, and by Elias, and Elijah, temple work and temple worship could now proceed. The altar once again became the centerpiece of the temple, and the covenants made there should be the centerpiece of our lives.
In 1842, Joseph Smith was asked the purpose of gathering. He replied, “What was the object of gathering the …people of God in any age? … The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house.” This was true in Kirtland, in Nauvoo, in Salt Lake City, in Cardston, and in all other places where the Saints of God have gathered. Temples now dot the earth, with 170 dedicated temples, 44 under construction, and 51 announced [not yet under construction], for a total of 265. The gathering process plants one upon the covenant path, and that path leads to the altar.
The altar is where the most significant activities occur
Today, it is at the altar of the temple that “the most significant activities occur: the making of covenants, the offering of prayers, the establishment of marriages and families, and the promises of sacrifice and consecration.” Anciently, fire was housed within the altar upon which sacrifice was offered; now, the altar is a place where we enter into the “fire of the covenant” and allow that fire to consume the sacrifice of our will.
The very word “sacrifice” means “to make sacred.” Conjointly, “altar” means “a place of slaughter or sacrifice.” We learn from Abraham that sacrifice is more a matter of the heart than of one’s hands. The intent is as important as the act.
Sacrifice is seldom convenient or comfortable and is often accompanied by stretching and suffering. For our sacrifice to be fully accepted, nothing can be held back. He wants our hearts broken and our spirits contrite. Contrite means to be “crushed in spirit,” just as Jesus’ spirit in Gethsemane was crushed, causing Him to bleed from every pore. Being willing to place our agency upon the altar is, finally, the only sacrifice that truly counts. It is only at the altar that we can receive a “fullness of the Priesthood” and a “fullness of the Holy Ghost.”
The sacrament table is an altar upon which sacred emblems of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice are blessed. As we place our “broken hearts and contrite spirits” upon that altar, we can become sinless and sanctified, and our covenants renewed and restored.
Sacrifice is at the core of every covenant
Anciently, that which was most precious was sacrificed upon the altar. It still is today. Sacrifice is at the core of every covenant that we make at the altar of the temple. The only way that we can face the altar is to turn our backs on the world. Increasing our time spent around the table of the altar in this life will decrease the number of empty chairs around our table in the next life.
Now, as I look upon Ryan and Emma, their hands united across the altar, I realize that they are offering their own broken hearts and contrite spirits to each other and to God in similitude of His sacrifice for them. They are “all in.” As they sacrifice for each other, they will become one with each other and with Him, for sacrifice leads to sanctification. This is the covenant path. And that path has led them to this altar, a symbol of Christ’s presence. And He must be at the center of every marriage, and every life.
There is always room in the inn of the temple for all who desire to come unto Him. Through His generous grace and the power of His glory, we can become heirs to all that He has. Surely, it is the power that comes from being endowed in the temple that will bring us the faith and courage to withstand what lies ahead.
As we seek refuge at the altar and cling to Him, the altar will become “a sure foundation” built upon the “Rock of our Redeemer,” rather than “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. He will mend our broken hearts and bring succor to our souls. He will be our shadow by day and our pillar by night; our King, our Deliverer, our all. “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.” The altar and our own sacrifice are the key to those blessings.
1 This day was the second day of Passover, a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt. Sacrifice was offered at Passover to remember the lamb’s blood smeared on the doors of the Israelites to protect them from the destroying angel that killed the firstborns in Egypt. It is believed that Elijah the prophet attends every Passover, thus a seat is placed for him at the Passover table, with a cup of wine awaiting his arrival. Elijah did come at Passover, but it was to the Kirtland Temple.
2 Sydney Sperry, The Voice of Israel’s Prophets, . 'The first gathering of Israel was done under the direction of Moses and resulted in the exodus from Egypt. Moses therefore holds the keys of the gathering of Israel. The Lord set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people by sending Moses to confer the keys of his authority upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836.'
3A messenger called Elias appeared restoring the keys pertaining to the gospel of Abraham, specifically the blessings promised to our ancient fathers- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These keys restore the blessings of the new and everlasting covenant and are manifest in their fullness in the sealing ordinance and are also important in the perfecting of the Saints in this dispensation.
4 History of the Church, 5:423–24.
6 Skinner, Temple Worship, page 184.
7 “Let the fire of the covenant which you made in the House of the Lord, burn in your hearts, like flame unquenchable,” Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 28 Sept. 1846, 5; emphasis added.
8 J. Marshall Jenkins, “Sacrifice: Making Yourself Sacred,” Feb. 15, 2017. See also Online Etymology Dictionary. https://www.etymonline.com/word/sacrifice.
9 W.E.Addis, Encyclopedia Biblica, “altar;” Hebrew (מִזְבֵּחַ, mizbeaḥ),
10 Webster’s New World Dictionary, “contrite.”
11 Neal A. Maxwell, 'Deny Yourselves of All Ungodliness,' Ensign, May 1995, 66-68. 'The real act of personal sacrifice is not now nor ever has been placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal that is in us upon the altar—then willingly watching it be consumed! Such is the 'sacrifice unto [the Lord of] a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”
12 Doctrine and Covenants 124:28.
13 Doctrine and Covenants 109:15.
14 3 Nephi 9:19.
15 Alonzo L. Gaskill, Sacred Symbols-Finding Meaning in Rites, Rituals, and Ordinances.  page 184.
16 Helaman 5:12.
17 1 Peter 2:8.
18 “Praise to the Man,” Hymns, no. 27.