Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
In my forthcoming book, Considering the Cross, I describe how Anthony Sweat and I surveyed more than 800 adult members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and asked them the following questions:
If you had to choose one of the following six paintings to hang in your home, which would you choose? Why did you choose the painting you did?
Note that there are three images of Gethsemane and three images of Calvary. We also matched artists (Carl Bloch painted 1 and 3, Harry Anderson painting 2 and 4, and J. Kirk Richards painted 5 and 6).
Before you keep reading, take a moment and answer the question for yourself. Which image would you choose? Why?
In the survey that Tony and I did, 97% of Latter-day Saints chose an image of Gethsemane. Maybe these results aren’t surprising—after all, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we focus on the living Christ. At the same time, we also believe in the loving Christ.
While many of us connect Christ’s love with Gethsemane, and sorrow with his cross, Jesus Christ personally defined his greatest act of love as his Crucifixion. He said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The Apostle Paul wrote, “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Given that Christ on the cross is a manifestation of his love, could some of us benefit from spending more time pondering on Crucifixion images?
Although some Latter-day Saints find it painful to think about Christ’s death, ancient prophets and the Savior himself have commanded us to contemplate it. Mormon wrote to his son Moroni, “May Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death . . . rest in your mind forever” (Moro. 9:25).
Similarly, Jacob wrote, “We would to God that we could persuade all men [to] . . . believe in Christ, and view his death, and suffer his cross” (Jacob 1:8). Do we follow Mormon and let Christ’s death rest in our minds? Do we listen to Jacob and view his death?
These words from Book of Mormon prophets become even more impactful when we consider what Jesus Christ has directly revealed in our day. In Doctrine and Covenants 6:36 the Savior says, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” This is a frequently quoted passage. But do we notice the very next verse? Immediately after telling us to look unto him, Jesus states, “Behold [meaning “fix your eyes upon”], the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet” (D&C 6:37). In our day, the living Christ has personally invited us to fix our eyes on the wounds in his side, hands, and feet.
Of course, this does not mean we need to constantly stare at pictures of Christ’s Crucifixion. And in fact, people will react differently to different types of artwork. One woman I spoke with said that for her husband, watching a movie scene depicting Christ’s Crucifixion was spiritually moving, but for her personally, it was very uncomfortable. So clearly, we’re not all going to feel the same way about every image.
At the same time, I think we can recognize that Christ’s Crucifixion is not just an image of pain and sorrow. It is an image of love. It is an image of triumph. In a beautiful poem Eliza R. Snow referred to “the triumphs of the cross” and Doctrine and Covenants 76:39 talks of “the triumph and the glory of the Lamb, who was slain.” In Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, he wrote that on “the cross [Christ] disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:14–15, New International Version).
The verses cited in this article suggest to me that some of us could benefit from spending more focused time pondering the death of Christ. Such a meditation might entail picturing the Savior before Pilate, envisioning a crown of thorns placed on his head, or visualizing him on the cross. We might imagine how we would have felt if we were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, or a Roman soldier present that afternoon.
What power might we find from following Mormon’s counsel to let Christ’s “death . . . rest in your mind forever” (Moro. 9:25) or Jacob’s teaching, “We would to God that we could persuade all men [to] . . . view his death” (Jacob 1:8)?
When we follow the Savior’s exhortation to fix our eyes upon, in his own words, “the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet,” we can receive great strength. Doing so can help us remember the loving Christ, the triumphant Christ, and a Savior who understands the pain we experience. Above all, we can remember that Jesus was crucified to “draw all [people] unto [him]” (John 12:32). Beholding his wounds helps us remember him and look to him. Reflecting on our Redeemer’s sacrifice connects us with him.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Crucifixion images can connect us with Christ, follow @TheLovingChrist on Instagram. If you’d like to get a free chapter from the book, Considering the Cross, sign up here.