Sunday, October 12, 2014

Symbolism of the Atonement in Priesthood Ordinances

I love Symbolism. I still remember how excited I was when I first read the Da Vinci Code and found out that Robert Langdon was a professor of Symbology. I was convinced that I had found my career path, until my hopes were dashed realizing that no such field of study exists. Even so, I thoroughly enjoy looking for symbolism in various parts of the gospel and in secular places as well. Bruce R. McConkie stated that it is wholesome and proper to look for symbols of Christ in all things so as to keep him foremost in our minds. As a consequence I have enjoyed seeing parallels of Christ in some of my more nerd-like hobbies. Some examples include Sam speaking to Frodo about the Ring of Power on the slopes of Mount Doom: "I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you." And the significance of Spock sacrificing himself to save his crewmates in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, holding true to his belief that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and the one."  

However, in preparation for this talk I have thought a lot about how I can approach it and best speak about it from a more serious standpoint, considering that I have been asked to speak about the most holy event in human history and how it relates to the most important steps we will ever take in life.

Preach My Gospel teaches us that the Atonement consists of three parts: 
--Suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane
--Death by Crucifixion
--Resurrection

Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, are we able to return to the presence of Heavenly Father. Only the Atonement of our Savior can help us to overcome our weaknesses, win against Satan, be perfected, and ultimately to become like God.

How is this possible, and how do priesthood ordinances relate?

I believe that Doctrine and Covenants 84:20-22 can answer our question.

20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. 
21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; 
22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live. (Doctrine and Covenants, Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 84)

These verses teach us that without priesthood ordinances, the power of godliness is not manifest. Simply put, we cannot become Godly without priesthood ordinances. God does not need us to participate in baptism, confirmation, and the other ordinances. He has designed these ordinances, or ceremonies, for US. As we open our hearts to him and participate in these sacred ceremonies, the power of Christ can more fully enter our lives.

From my study of the Gospel, I have identified 7 key priesthood ordinances. They are:
--Baptism by immersion
--Receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost
--Partaking of the Sacrament
--Ordination to the Priesthood
--Washing and Anointing
--The Endowment
--Sealing / Celestial Marriage

As we talk about these seven ordinances I pray that the Holy Ghost will be present so that we may learn together and that all may be edified. 

Baptism

The apostle Paul teaches us about symbolism of Christ's death and resurrection in our baptism in Romans 6:3-6:

3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 
4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 
5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: (New Testament, Romans, Romans 6)

As we are covered completely by water in our baptism, we are washed clean of our sins, and are raised again to a new life. 


Confirmation

Joseph Smith taught the following: "You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half--that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost."

When we are confirmed and are given the gift of the Holy Ghost, Joseph Fielding McConkie compares it to lighting a perpetual flame inside of us that will always burn so long as we protect it. The Holy Ghost will cleanse us and sanctify us, and will play a key part in helping us to become Godly. 


The Sacrament
 
Of all things we do in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the partaking of the sacrament is the most sacred. Symbolism of the Atonement is very strong in this sacred weekly ordinance. We are reminded each week that Christ sacrificed himself for us, not only through his death on the cross and through his flesh, but also by shedding blood in the Garden of Gethsemane as he suffered for our guilt. 

Someone remarked in an Institute class I attended that that the symbols of the sacrament are fairly common: bread and water. They suggested that perhaps these simple symbols are chosen so that each time we eat bread, or drink water, that we might "always remember Him and have His Spirit to be with us." And, just as bread and water are the basic necessities for our physical survival, likewise bread and water in the form of the Sacrament are the necessities for our spiritual survival. May we be worthy each week to partake of the bread and water and remember the great Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.


Ordination to the Priesthood

An important step in the life of each Latter-day Saint young man is to receive the Priesthood. When we receive the Priesthood and when we perform faithfully in our callings under the direction of the Priesthood, we symbolically become the hands of Jesus Christ. We become instruments for good and we can perform His work faithfully in the service of others.

It is very important to remember, however, that the blessings of the priesthood are not reserved just for men. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught this truth very clearly in the most recent general conference of the Church:

In our Heavenly Father’s great priesthood-endowed plan, men have the unique responsibility to administer the priesthood, but they are not the priesthood. Men and women have different but equally valued roles. Just as a woman cannot conceive a child without a man, so a man cannot fully exercise the power of the priesthood to establish an eternal family without a woman. In other words, in the eternal perspective, both the procreative power and the priesthood power are shared by husband and wife. And as husband and wife, a man and a woman should strive to follow our Heavenly Father. The Christian virtues of love, humility, and patience should be their focus as they seek the blessings of the priesthood in their lives and for their family. (2013 April General Conference, “This Is My Work and Glory”, Sat. Morning Session - By  M. Russell Ballard)


The final three ordinances take place in the temple. Out of respect for the Savior and his house I will not speak directly and specifically of everything that takes place there. I will use the scriptures and the words of Brad Wilcox in his book "The Continuous Conversion" to explore how the Atonement is symbolized in the temple both in modern and ancient times.


Washing and Anointing

Just as Moses washed and anointed Aaron and his sons as recorded in the Book of Exodous, we are also washed and anointed. Through this process we are set apart from the things of the world as we prepare to learn and participate in the ordinances of the temple.

The translation for Messiah is "The Annointed One" and as we are washed and anointed we become like Him, set apart and chosen to become great, and to fulfill our individual destiny. To ultimately become Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses.


The Endowment

Through the covenant promises we make in the temple, we become more Godly. We promise to obey the Laws of God, and keep promises of Obedience, Sacrifice, Chastity, and Consecration. Again, these promises we make are not for God. He doesn't need us to be obedient and faithful. WE need to be obedient and faithful for our own good. 

To help us remember him, in the temple we are given undergarments to where daily, so that we can always remember Him. The Hebrew word for Atonement is Kaphar, which means "to cover." The undergarments we are given in the temple are similar to the coats of skin given to Adam and Eve and can serve as a powerful daily reminder of the suffering of The Lord Jesus Christ.

We are also "covered" as we wear sacred temple clothing, designed to help us remember Jesus Christ and the covenant promises we take upon ourselves so that we can become godly.

Through the ordinances of the temple, the words of Doctrine and Covenants Section 84 ring loud and clear: Through the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.


Sealing

When we are sealed in the temple, we become partners with the Savior and our spouse in a three-way covenant promise. As we build our marriages and families on the Savior, he will bless us and guide us in the right way. 

One phrase in particular is found in all ordinances that take place in the temple, and it really shows us how much God cares about families. In all the ordinances in the temple we hear the phrase "That we may have joy and rejoicing in our posterity." I know that through the ordinances of the temple we can find Christ there and we can make him a part of our life. He is our example, the path to salvation, and the foundation of all righteous families.

To conclude, I want to share some interesting symbolism from the Law of Moses. Brad Wilcox explores some ancient symbolism in animal sacrifice that occurred during that time period. While we do not participate in animal sacrifice today, we do "offer up the animal within us," as pointed out by Neal A Maxwell. I thought Brother Wilcox's observations might be helpful so that we can see that even hundreds of years before Christ, there were important and powerful symbols of his atonement being taught to the Jews. The following comes from his most recent book: "The Continuous Conversion":

"Anciently, the one performing the sacrifice would place the animal on the altar with its head to his right. He would then declare his authority by raising his right arm to the square, similar to how a priest today performs a baptism by raising his right arm to the square and saying, "Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.

"The next action in an Old Testament animal sacrifice was for the one sacrificing to hold a cup with which to catch the blood of the animal. Blood, the source of life, represented Christ's atoning blood, complete with all the nourishment, purification, and healing it offers. The cup was symbolic of the bitter cup from which Jesus would drink. While holding the cup in one hand, the one performing the sacrifice would life the sacrificial knife with the other.

"Following the slaying of the animal, the one sacrificing would have held the cup of blood in one hand and laid his other hand on the head of the beast. This symbolized the connection between the sinner and the sacrificial victim and served to transfer personal sins and identity to the animal. In Numbers 8:12 we read, "And the Levites shall lay their hands upon the heads of the bullocks...to make an atonement for the Levites."

"At the end of the sacrifice, the one making the sacrifice prayed by lifting both hands above his head. In Psalm 141:2 we read "Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." When Solomon dedicated the temple, he stood before the congregation "and spread forth his hands toward heaven: and he said, Lord God of Israel" (Wilcox, The Continuous Comversion)

As Brother Brad Wilcox has shown us, all throughout time there has been symbolism of Jesus Christ and his Atonement in the times of the Law of Moses, and also today. If we look for him, he is there. As He has promised us, "Seek and ye shall find"

I know that there is so much more we can learn about the Savior as we study his life and his great sacrifice. I know that we can learn more about Him as we seek to see symbols of Him in our daily life. Sometimes we will see symbols of Him in Lord of the Rings and Star Trek, and other times we will see symbols of Him in Church and as we attend the temple. Regardless of where we see symbols of Him, I pray that we can allow these symbols to help us REMEMBER what Christ did for us. That is the ultimate reason for having symbols in the first place -- to point our souls to Christ.

I know that the Atonement of the Savior is the only hope we have. It is the source of our strength and our victory against Satan. I know that the Ordinances we participate in within the Church can help us remember Christ, if we look for symbols of him. I know that if we accept Him and participate in these sacred ordinances, that the power of godliness will be manifest, and lasting change and conversion will take place.

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