The Latter-Day Saints should hold a unique and sacred understanding of the power of the cross. Our minds should not be far from it. Ever. We embrace the suffering Christ often. When we partake of the symbols of the sacrament we consume the torn flesh and spilled blood of His great sacrifice.
So why is it that we eschew the cross not only as a symbol of our faith, but as a constant reminder of the sacrifice of Christ?
The early saints used the cross until the 20th century. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the cross was completely eliminated from our churches, mostly in opposition to what we saw as a symbol embraced by the “apostate” christian churches.
Bruce McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith hardened the saints against the cross by proclaiming them symbols of “degenerate Christian Churches” (Mormon Doctrine, 160) and a “tool of execution”.
Unfortunately, in our exuberance to distance ourselves from other Christian creeds that persecuted us in our history, we also rejected some doctrines and symbols they emphasized in their worship (for example born again doctrine). Ironically, this rejection prompted our own hardening towards some truths that are powerful principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Justifying our rejection of the cross as a symbol of our faith, the most optimistic amongst us innovated a positive view of our rejection of the cross symbolism. President Hinckley expressed the following:
“I do not wish to give offense to any of my Christian colleagues who use the cross on the steeples of their cathedrals and at the altars of their chapels, who wear it on their vestments, and imprint it on their books and other literature. But for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the Living Christ. …
“… The lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship” (President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008), “The Symbol of Our Faith,” Liahona and Ensign, April 2005, 3).
And this has become the standard view of the Latter-Day Saint. We don’t use a symbol of the dying Christ , we prefer the lives of the members of the church to be the symbol in its stead.
It strikes me as odd that we would hold ourselves up as a people as a symbol of Christ. Of course we are to be a light to the world, that the light of Christ should shine through us, but true saints carry the disposition of John that we must decrease, so that he may increase. Rejecting the sign of condescension of God and replacing it with the self-vaunting of the members of the Church strikes me as a posture in direct opposition to the invitation of the cross – that we must be lowly and meek. Perhaps we should think of the condescension of Christ as more worthy of adulation than how Mormons live their lives. Self-idolization is of the most tempting sort, and it takes on a particular kind of narcissism when it elevated above the image of the suffering Christ.
And ff course we rejoice in the living and resurrected Christ! But in order for us to be of the order of Christ, we too, must carry our cross. We, too, must die as to things of this world. We must crucify the natural man within.
The cross should be a constant reminder to go through our condescension.
The emblems of Christ’s death are the heart and substance of the weekly sacrament. We don’t refer to the righteous acts of Latter-day Saints to replace taking the emblems. We take them because they remind us of the great and eternal sacrifice of our Savior.
If we use the symbols of death in the Sacrament, why not be reminded of his death through the use of a cross?
Latter-Day Saints that receive the priesthood endowment in the temple should reflect deeply on two of the tokens received in the Melchizedek priesthood. They both have reference to the cross. The witness in his body are the marks of sacrifice of the cross. They were both prophesied and they carry eternal significance.
And I will fasten him as a in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father’s house.
And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups, even to all the vessels of flagons.
In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall the nail that is fastened in the sure place be removed, and be cut down, and fall; and the burden that was upon it shall be cut off: for the Lord hath spoken it” (Isaiah 22: 23-25).
Surely the Father, too, possesses the marks in the sure place. As an eternal witness of accomplishing an infinite atonement, Christ did nothing that he did not see his Father do.
And so our Priesthood and our witness is rooted in the cross. It is the great sign of condescension and sacrifice. As Christ himself reminds us in the record of 3 Nephi:
And my Father sent me that I might beupon the ; and after that I had been lifted up upon the , that I might all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil” (3 Nephi 27: 14).
Not only should we be reminded of the cross through symbolism, we should also be reminded that it is through the symbols and doctrine of the cross that we are sealed to Eternal Life. It is through the cross that we receive the highest and holiest blessings of eternity.
The cross was not a random mode of murder. It was a yielding to a death that sealed in resurrected flesh the tokens of condescension and eternal sacrifice. This, too, can be our understanding when we reflect on the meaning of the cross. And, hopefully, someday reclaim it as a symbol of our faith.