Thursday, October 15, 2009

Preaching Christ Crucified

Several months ago, as I walked into a meeting, my boss, who is also LDS, looked at me with a puzzled expression, and then, pointing to my necklace, asked, "Uh...are you wearing...a cross?"
"Yes," I replied, simply.
With a bemusedly quizzical tone he asked, "WHY are you wearing a cross??"
My reply was again simple. "Because I am a Christian."

You see, friends, I wear a cross. Outside the Mormon world, that's not an uncommon thing for Christians to do, but inside the Mormon world, it just doesn't happen. We have no crosses on our buildings, in our chapels, on our temples, on our priest's clothing, in our homes, in our artwork, or around our necks. If you ask a Mormon why that is, he'll probably say something about how "we worship the living Christ, not the dying Christ," or, "if your best friend died from a gunshot wound, would you wear an image of a gun on your necklace and mount another on your wall?" You see, we're great at coming up with after-the-fact explanations for why we do what we do, when the real reason is "uh...it's Tradition."

Most early Mormon converts came from Quaker and Campebellite backgrounds, and from other churches of their ilk They were anti-papist and iconoclastic, accustomed to un-ornamented meeting halls and services that lacked the pomp and ceremony of other high-mass churches. When they changed denominations, they didn't change worship styles, and thus our worship styles--and attitudes toward the cross--were born. Had the early Church drawn mostly Catholic converts, our worship would be very different, though the Church would still be just as true.

So why do I break from tradition? For one, because I don't think there's anything very holy about this custom. For another, I like the cross. It identifies me with Christians the world over. It's a public way of saying, "remember Jesus, who died on the cross? I believe in Him. I accept Him as my Savior. You should too." I think if Mormons used more crosses in their worship, they would face fewer accusations of "not really being Christians" from other denominations. And I think that sometimes we overlook the cross, eternally to our detriment.

I also wear a cross because it reminds me of the duties of a Christian. It reminds me that I ought to be kinder, slower to anger and judgment, quicker to extend mercy and understanding. I ought to be cheerful, inclined to serve, in tune with the pain in the eyes of my brothers and sisters, and desirous to heal it. I ought to have more faith, more hope, more charity. I ought to forgive more and judge less. I ought to be a better example of the believers (1 Timothy 4:12).

I wear a cross to remind me of the triumph and resurrection of Christ. You see, the cross is a gloriously triumphant symbol, for the cross is empty, just as the tomb was. Christ no longer suffers there, for He is victorious. The cross is what the early apostles preached, even though, to the enlightened minds of their day, it was utter foolishness to worship a God who had died in agony. Said Paul, "The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).

In Paul's day, the cross was the symbol of ultimate mortal humiliation and defeat, and so it became a fitting throne for Him who had "ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth" (Doc. & Cov. 88:6).

My cross reminds me of my duty to my Savior far more explicitly than a CTR ring ever could. It reminds me that one day I will stand before my God and give an accounting of how I lived, and who I loved. As Jesus reminded His Nephite disciples, "My Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw 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 judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil" (3 Nephi 27:14). It reminds me that because of Christ's sufferings in Gethsemane, His death on the cross, and His glorious resurrection, I can be drawn to Him, lifted up in my greatest agonies, that the same power that transformed the Lord's cross into His throne can convert my despair and my heartaches to transcendent, joyful song.

I, like Nephi, "glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell" (2 Nephi 33:6). And, in the words of Paul, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6:14).

5 comments:

  1. Bravo, Sister Gordon! I am so happy to read someone of your caliber of devotion to the gospel take a shot at these silly notions of ours. Now, could you possibly take a swipe at the small-minded insistence on white shirts for sacrament-passing deacons?

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  2. I think your post is insightful. However, I would hesitate to speak negatively in terms of not using the cross. (I'm not saying don't use the cross or that there aren't beneficial reasons it can be used. Simply, I am saying I would hesitate to speak negatively in terms of not using the cross.) As President Hinckley has said:

    "And so, because our Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of His death as the symbol of our faith. But what shall we use? No sign, no work of art, no representation of form is adequate to express the glory and the wonder of the Living Christ. He told us what that symbol should be when He said, 'If ye love me, keep my commandments'(John 14:15)."

    Also, white shirts for passing the sacrament, although not mandatory, are encouraged and should be worn whenever possible:

    Elder Holland 1995 - "Do This in Remembrance of Me."

    Elder Oaks 2008 - "Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament" (reaffirming Elder Holland's teaching)

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  3. Margin-
    I rather like the white shirts, and I would gladly wear one if they'd let me pass the sacrament. =) I'll let you take that one on.

    Thomas-
    I know what President Hinckley said, and there's some validity to it. But just because he didn't find meaning in the cross doesn't mean I can't.

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  4. Thanks for this post. I've been thinking a lot about it in the past few weeks.

    I have a great deal of respect for the cross, and for your decision to wear one. As a Jewish-Mormon, I know that there are many deeply spiritually significant practices outside of LDS tradition. Thanks for reminding us that they have value too, and that we can integrate them into our lives without dishonoring our faith.

    My one issue is with your comment that other Christians would be more likely to see us as Christian also if we used the cross. Not because I think you're not right, but because I wonder what impact that mindset could have on us.

    It makes me wonder if the early Christians, who thought of themselves as Jewish, asked if praying with phylacteries would make other Jews more likely to think of them as Jewish. After all, even now I find deep spiritual significance in the ritual of praying with the tefillin, and Christ himself had taught that the Shema is the first and greatest commandment.

    We know that many of them wanted Gentile converts to keep the Law of Moses-- Paul suggests that it wasn't out of respect for the law, but of fear of being seen as Gentiles themselves.

    The desire to conform is a powerful thing, but there are times when we have to remember that it's not always most important.

    We believe in Christ. We believe in Him crucified and in Him Risen. But we also believe important things-- about the eternality of human relationships, the theopomorphism of man, the importance of temple covenants-- which divide us from mainstream Christianity just as clearly as the doctrine of Christ crucified and risen divided early Christians from the Pharisees and Sadducees. When we want too hard for others to accept us as Christians, we risk forgetting those things.

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  5. Lion-
    Great point. I stand corrected. There certainly is much that separates us from other denominations. I guess I see that separation emphasized so much that I feel driven to emphasize the things that unite us. But thanks for reminding me to keep these things in balance.
    By the way, I love my teffillin.

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