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Of all the Easter symbols, why is the cross the one symbol that we shun as Latter-day Saints? Easter is often filled with gruesome movies of Christian martyrdom, bunnies, baby chicks, and candy, exceeded only by Halloween. We love Easter egg hunts with the children and our Easter music-filled sacrament meetings. The spectrum stretches from the pagan to the holy. The cross, however we think of it, is a historical reality and is recognized the world over as “the Christian symbol.”
Nevertheless, we have defended our “cross aversion” by explaining that we believe in a living Christ rather than a dying one… and we do. Some have even labeled the cross as a Satanic instrument used to kill our Savior. Yet, it would appear that the Savior’s death and even His crucifixion was foreordained before the world was. Was the cross chosen as a symbol in the premortal worlds where we probably sustained all symbols to be used during our mortal probation? So could we learn something from this ubiquitous symbol, that even the pine tree creates each season of new growth?
A number of years ago I was invited to accompany one of my former students, a returned mission president, on a tour of Temple Square where we were to meet his friend, an Orthodox Catholic Cardinal. He was dressed in his priestly uniform which included a large cross suspended around his neck. He had spoken at the institute where he pled, “In all of your enthusiasm for the restoration, please don’t forget the sacrifices of the continuation, through which we have the Bible today.’ As we toured, he asked pointed and meaningful questions. He asked me to video tape the tour so that he could take it back to his leading councils.
As we entered the Assembly Hall and I was momentarily blinded by my camera struggling to adapt to the subdued lighting, I almost bumped into him standing stunned by what he saw. He turned slowly and then asked, “Why are there Coptic crosses all around the balustrade?” Frankly, I had never noticed, nor would have recognized them as such, but as I opened my mouth, I heard myself say, “Oh, perhaps it would be good if I explained the symbol of the cross to you.” As he broke into restrained laughter, I thought, ‘What am I saying?”
He then asked, still trying to keep a straight face, “So let me see, a Mormon is going to explain the cross, which I thought you didn’t use, to a Catholic priest, is that what I am hearing?” “Yes, “I heard myself say…. “uhhh…What do you call two intersecting lines, in Latin? You do speak Latin, right?” Well, yes but it has been some years since I had to do much with it. Please remind me.” I crossed my first fingers on either hand to form a cross and then said, “It is called a ‘templum’. Before he could speak what his eyes were saying, I said, “To the ancient Hebrews the temple was the center of the world where the four corners crossed. As such it was also the intersection of the world of the living and the world of spirits.”
Processing quickly, he exclaimed, “Ah, so the temple is the symbol of your church!” I liked it, but I knew better, without really understanding why, so I again stepped into the unknown, “Well no, but come, let’s look at the temple.” We stepped back into the bright sunlight and I motioned to the temple and asked, “What symbols do you see?” He quickly indicated the sun, moon, and stars. I asked what they stood for, and his reply was logical, but not completely accurate, “They must indicate the three degrees of glory in your theology of heaven.”
“Well,” I hesitated then asked, “Why then is the sun stone not the highest of the three? As you can see there are stars above the sun stones.” By now he was anxious for things to become clear, “What then is being represented?” You are right that the temple is a representation of heaven with constellations, rain clouds, stars, sun, and moon phases. But there is more! Do you remember the book of Revelation chapter 12?” “Well, yes but not in enough detail to be helpful.” So, we turned to it with the JST, on my phone.
1 And there appeared a great sign in heaven, in the likeness of things on the earth; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.
2 And the woman being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
3 And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up unto God and his throne.
4 And there appeared another sign in heaven; and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman which was delivered, ready to devour her child after it was born.
5 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore years.
6 And there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought against Michael;
7 And the dragon prevailed not against Michael, neither the child, nor the woman which was the church of God, who had been delivered of her pains, and brought forth the kingdom of our God and his Christ.
8 Neither was there place found in heaven for the great dragon, who was cast out; that old serpent called the devil, and also called Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth; and his angels were cast out with him.
9 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ;
As we read, he would exclaim, “So the temple is the woman with stars in her crown! Wait… so the woman is the Church of God waiting to birth…? Is the child Christ? What are all the italicized parts?”
I explained that Joseph Smith had been instructed to make an “Inspired Version” of the Bible. These were his additions and rewrites. This “honest in heart” leader of another faith, had come to love the prophet Joseph and so anxiously searched for how he clarified this symbolic and difficult to understand section. I guided him to verse 7 and explained that there were two churches and kingdoms referred to in scripture, the heavenly church and kingdom, and the earthly. The woman is the heavenly church waiting to birth the kingdom of God on earth.
The earthly kingdom under Christ would eventually give place to the kingdom in heaven as Christ returns and the earth is renewed. So, the temple is the heavenly church birthing the earthly kingdom or Zion. So as people go into the temple to receive sacred ordinances, they are then birthed back out into the world as the kingdom of God on earth. President Hinckley, (the prophet at the time), instructed that, “The symbol of our church is the lives of its faithful members.”
Almost overcome by what he felt and how everything fit, he exclaimed, “Will you start the video and let me explain everything you just said to my Patriarch (the equivalent of their Pope)? He proceeded to parrot back on video, everything that he had heard.
I was both amazed at his precise memory but even more at what I had heard come from my mouth. I had never put all those pieces together. I had never thought of the cross in such a way with all the implications that have flooded my thoughts since:
- The center of the four corners (north, south, east, and west) of this creation, symbolized by the cross, is Christ and His Atonement.
- The temple is a symbol of Christ through which the living and dead partake of the fullness of His Atonement through essential ordinances.
- The Temple is the intersection of the worlds of living and dead, hence:
- The location where the living gift to the dead the ordinances of the Atonement
- The location where the dead gift to the living essential, personal revelations through the Holy Ghost that will lead them to be “perfected in Christ.”
- Through the Temple/Christ/The Atonement, members become the consecrated kingdom of God.
- Through the Temple ordinances, members join Christ in the central essential saving work of the Atonement by being endowed with the knowledge and power of Godliness.
Cross Model Throughout Scripture
With this new paradigm of the cross, I began to see it throughout the scriptures. Here are a few examples:
- The Savior was challenged again by a lawyer asking, “How do I inherit eternal life?” After being invited to summarize the entire law he said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” Loving God is the vertical component while the horizontal is our relationship with our fellow men. He called these two “the great commandment of the Law.”
- In the culminating chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior gave the measure of true discipleship and key to personal revelation (our vertical revelatory relationship) as being dependent on how we treat others (our horizontal relationships). He then calls this intersection, “The Strait Gate” that leads to eternal life that few will find. Is our relationship with God then, proportional to our relationship with our fellow man? Is the cross, then a symbol of the gate?
- In defining meekness, we most often use the word “humility.” But the scriptures are clear that we need to be both humble and meek. Elder Wirthlin defined humility as our relationship with God; a vertical relationship in the “cross model”. In the same conference Bishop Burton quoted Elder Maxwell’s definition of meekness as a relationship with others (as did Elder Soares and Elder Bednar); horizontal, in the model.
Humility is practically invisible to others while Moroni notes that Meekness is openly visible. He seems to be referring to it when he says he can see the saints “peaceable walk with the children of men” “because of their meekness”
Elder Soares helps us see the sequence, a “step to attain meekness is to become humble.” So a humble person may attain to meekness! In the Sermon on the Mount the Savior taught that attaining to meekness allows God to promise the Celestial Kingdom; to inherit the earth.
So, not only is the cross a powerful symbol of the Atonement of Christ, the temple and family history, but it is also a visual model for the greatest of all the commandments upon which all others hang.
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40
Perhaps this Easter we will see with different eyes as we celebrate the greatest of all events in the Universe. May we see, not only His sacrifice, but also the pathway to Him. May we love more readily.
 Ether 3:14 Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people.
Mosiah 3:9…even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him.
Psalms 22: 1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
 Moses 6:63 And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.
See Joseph Smith HC 6:51 …and voluntarily subscribed to in their heavenly estate by themselves…
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Symbol of Our Faith,” Liahona and Ensign, Apr. 2005, 3
 “We cannot be perfect without the fathers. We must have revelation from them…” Joseph Smith; Messages of the First Presidency, 1:203-209
See also 2 Nephi 32:3 “Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost”
 DC 84:19-20; Moses 1:39
 Luke 10:27
 Matt 22:37
 12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
13 ¶ Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in there at:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Matt 7:7-14
 19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. Mosiah 3:19 See also Alma 37:33-34; Moroni 7:43
 Humility is the recognition and attitude that one must rely on the Lord’s assistance to make it through this life. We cannot endure to the end on our own strength. Without Him, we are nothing.(John 15:5) Conference October 2004
 “Meekness is the presentation of self in a posture of kindness and gentleness. It reflects certitude, strength, serenity; it reflects a healthy self-esteem and a genuine self-control” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Meekly Drenched in Destiny,” in Brigham Young University 1982–83 Fireside and Devotional Speeches , 2)
 Meekness means behaving with goodness and kindness, showing strength, serenity, healthy self-worth, and self-control. Elder Ulysses S. Soares Conference, Oct 2013; “Meek and Lowly of Heart.”
 A meek person is not easily provoked, pretentious, or overbearing and readily acknowledges the accomplishments of others.
Whereas humility generally denotes dependence upon God and the constant need for His guidance and support, a distinguishing characteristic of meekness is a particular spiritual receptivity to learning both from the Holy Ghost and from people who may seem less capable, experienced, or educated, who may not hold important positions, or who otherwise may not appear to have much to contribute. Elder David A. Bednar; Conference April 2018
 “4 And now my brethren, I judge these things of you because of your peaceable walk with the children of men.
39 I judge that ye have faith in Christ because of your meekness;
43 And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart. Moroni 7
 Elder Ulysses Soares; Conference October 2013; “Meek and Lowly of Heart.”
 DC 88: 17 And the redemption of the soul is through him that quickeneth all things, in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it.
18 Therefore, it must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory;
19 For after it hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father;
20 That bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever