In his address, “Lifted Up upon the Cross“, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland discusses why the cross is not a part of Latter-day Saint iconography. However, many symbols of Christianity, including the cross, can center our focus on the Savior.
What is a symbol?
The word symbol is defined as “a mark or character used as a conventional representation of an object, function, or process”. We have symbols everywhere. In fact, this whole blog is a set of symbols representing the letters of the English alphabet. These letters are put together to form words that are symbols as well.
We use symbols every day in just about everything we do. From street signs to the icons on our phones, humanity is inundated with symbols. Every religion has its own set of symbols and we recognize most of them by the symbols they use.
I want to touch briefly on why the cross is not a standard piece of iconography in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Holland does a masterful job of explaining that the cross wasn’t adopted by Christian religions until about 300 years after the death of Christ. The cross was a symbol of Roman execution and therefore the early saints did not use it as a symbol of their faith.
The LDS church is not a Catholic nor Protestant church. The Church is a restored church, “the restored New Testament Church” as stated by Elder Holland. “Thus, our origins and our authority go back before the time of councils, creeds, and iconography. In this sense, the absence of a symbol that was late coming into common use is yet another evidence that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of true Christian beginnings.”
Finally, as members of the Church, we have a particular emphasis on the complete mission of Jesus Christ. He came to earth to overcome both types of death that the fall of Adam and Eve instituted. His suffering in the garden of Gethsamane and on the cross to pay for our sins, allows us to overcome spiritual death; which is separation from God and His glory. Christ’s resurrection, meaning the rejoining of His Spirit and body after mortal death overcame physical death.
It is important to note that the resurrection is given freely. All who come into this mortal life receiving a body of flesh and bones will be resurrected. The imperfections found in our current bodies will be removed and we will have perfected bodies just as God and Jesus do.
Also important is that paying for our sins set up the law of repentance. Victory over spiritual death is not freely given. We must repent of the sins we make with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. This allows Christ’s sacrifice to satisfy the demands of justice through His grace and mercy.
Symbols and Their Importance
Symbols are important as they not only represent an object, function, or process but allow us to focus on that object, function, or process. When we come to a red light when driving we focus on braking the car safely and waiting for the light to change to allow us to continue on our way. When we see a notification on our phone in the form of a number or an icon we focus on that particular application and open it to check that notification. When playing soccer and possessing the ball near the touchline (out-of-bounds line) we focus on not letting the ball cross that line and turn it over to the other team.
Religious symbols in turn allow us to focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we see images like the crucifixion or the empty tomb, we focus on Christ’s atonement and what it means to us. When we partake of the sacrament (bread and water) we focus on Christ overcoming physical and spiritual death and remember to repent of our sins.
Symbols in the LDS Church
I mentioned above a couple of the symbols of the LDS church. Below is a list of symbols in the LDS church and how they help me focus on Jesus Christ.
- The garden of Gethsemane – When I see a picture of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, I think of His agony paying the price for my sins. This in turn helps me to focus on maintaining and keeping my covenants and repenting of my sins. I want to do all I can to lessen the agony He suffered.
- The Crucifixion – This reminds me of how Christ willingly gave His life for me. No one “executed” the Savior. He had the power and the ability to come down from the cross. That was not the Father’s will, and hence it was not Christ’s will. He gave up His life so that He could take it up again and be the first to be resurrected.
- The Tomb – I focus on how when Mary and others came to finish the preparations of Christ’s body for burial that the tomb was empty. “He [was] not [there], but [was] risen” (Luke 24:6). The realization of the resurrection and that I too will be resurrected.
- The Sacrament Bread – This is a symbol of the body of Jesus Christ. It draws our focus to Him giving up His life and being resurrected so that we can all overcome physical death.
- The Sacrament Water – This represents the blood of Christ that He shed in paying for our sins. We think of Luke’s account describing His sweat as “great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). We are reminded that if we repent we can overcome spiritual death through that sacrifice.
- The Book of Mormon – is another testament of Jesus Christ. It is a symbol that helps us focus on Christ teaching all of God’s children His gospel. It contains the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- The Temple – A symbol of God’s covenants with His children, it focuses one on the mission of Christ and allows one to align with that mission in bringing “to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
- The Angel Moroni – Sitting on top of the temple this statue is a symbol of bringing the gospel to all of God’s children. It helps us focus on the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for all of God’s children and everyone should have the opportunity to hear it.
The featured image of this post is the latest symbol of the church that helps one focus on Jesus Christ. It reminds all that His arms are open and inviting. He wants us to unite with Him and His gospel so that we can overcome spiritual death and live with God and Him after this time on earth has closed.
There are symbols all around us. They help us to focus on several areas of life. The symbols of the LDS church help us to focus on the Savior, His mission, His atonement, and what we have to do to overcome sin.
Tips for Teaching
As you contemplate how to teach this topic, here are a few suggestions:
- Find pictures of common symbols and display them. Ask the class what the symbols are used for and how they represent an object, function, or process.
- Discuss the various symbols of Christianity, including the cross. Discuss how we might use these symbols to focus on the Savior and His mission.
- Discuss Elder Holland’s statements on why we don’t use the cross in our iconography. What is really meant that we are “the New Testament Church restored”?
- Ask the class what they think of when they see symbols of our faith such as the temple and angel Moroni. Ask them how these symbols can lead us to focus on living a Christlike life.
Want to Learn More?
If you are interested in learning more about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its teachings, please visit the Church’s website. If you would like to visit one of our meetinghouses and experience our church services, please visit the meetinghouse locator.