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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Christian Symbols

The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin, 1435 Musee de Louvre, Paris - This painting depicts the Virgin Mary, dressed in a long beautiful red robe, giving the Baby Jesus to the Chancellor in an Italian palace. Here, there is abundant symbolism. For example, the gardens of lilies and roses, below the three arches, represent Mary's virtues. The peacocks, to the left of the two small figures in the center, symbolize immortality, or pride. In the background, one sees the town, painted in minute detail are the bridge and the buildings.

The word "symbol" is of Greek origin meaning "to put together to join or to combine." In the Christian community symbols can be such things as visual images or words that have been joined to deep spiritual meanings.
Jesus used symbolism. He used symbolic images such as the Good Shepherd, the Door, the Vine and the Light; symbolic actions such as washing the disciples' feet and entering into Jerusalem; symbolic numbers such as seventy times seven; symbolic objects such as water, bread, wine and oil.
Symbols are a rich treasury of the Christian message. By using symbols intelligently we have a meaningful and vivid communication of the Gospel.
Symbols have been used by the Christian church since the earliest ages for many reasons:
  • As a secret sign among the faithful during times of persecution.
  • As a means of teaching biblical truths to those unable to read.
  • As a way of reminding believers of God's sovereignty over all creation.
  • As a means of memorializing God's divine activity in human history.
Just as observing the seasons of the church year is a way of acknowledging that Jesus is the Lord of Time, using symbols in the church and teaching about their meaning is a way of proclaiming that the earth is the Lord's and that He is sovereign over human history. Symbols are a way of carrying our spiritual awareness out of the sanctuary and into the created world, into our own human experience.
In this day of increasing secularization and popularization of worship and church life, we are at risk of losing the rich language of Christian symbolism and seasonal observances.


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