Symbols are a powerful instructor of the human mind. We attach meaning to imagery. And when you combine images, they create a powerful, sometimes lengthy statement. For the Christian mind, our symbols play a powerful reminder of the truths we have come to know. Christian Symbols can range from the Cross to the Fish or the Cup – and everything in-between. But so many times these symbols can become white noise – to the point of becoming a fad used by popular culture (reference the Gothic Crosses worn by godless rock stars in the 80’s.) So it is incumbent upon us to revive their meaning in each generation and find new ways to express the deeper truths we have found. Below will be an ongoing collection of Christian symbols and in some cases, my take on them.
Feel free to engage these symbols, comment about them, and agree/disagree with them. They are meant to provoke thought, as any good Christian symbol should:
I like to study the symbols of the Christian faith. They have been used in ages past to convey meaning to fellow Christians and obscure meaning to outsiders. Such is the case with the Chi Rho. It is probably one of the earliest Christian Symbols and it is rich with meaning.
Christian Symbols – Chi Rho
So today I would like to offer my take on the Chi Rho Symbol. Below is a brief explanation of the parts and the history of the symbol, most of which I shamelessly cobbled together from Wikipedia:
Here are the parts and their meaning:
- Chi and Ro together: The first two letters of CHRIST and directly ties the symbol to Christ.
- Chi: is a dual symbol for the cross and the celestial axis mundi. It symbolizes that Christ is the center of all things and by Him all things hold together.
- Rho: It has been suggested that the Rho is similar in shape to the shepherds staff. This is a reminder that Christ is our shepherd and cares for/leads us.
- Crown of Thorns: the sufferings of the cross.
- The Laurel Wreath: the victory of the resurrection.
Christian Symbols – Baptism
Here is the traditional symbol for baptism. The shell and water droplets has been a long standing symbol of baptism. First, the water droplets are reminiscent of the water the Christian is baptized in. The three droplets harken to the Trinity. And the shell itself is a sign of pilgrimage because pilgrims to the Holy Land would use shells as drinking cups along their voyage.
Once this symbol is understood, it brings a connection to the past. It invokes the idea of pilgrims going to the Holy Land – seeking greater connection to God and the places where He walked. It can invoke feelings of our own pilgrimage. We are strangers in this land and our possessions are transitory.
But I am not sure that this symbol captures the heart of Baptism. For me, Baptism is identifying with the death of Christ when we are submerged. We also identify with His resurrection when we are raised out of the water. The very act of Baptism is a symbol. As such, the symbol used to identify with it should reflect what it is trying to tell us.
In an attempt to wrestle with what Baptism means, I have designed a symbol that more directly identifies with the death and resurrection of Christ. (see below) I went with the outline of the water drop to signify the water of baptism. Inside, I shaded the lower portion to signify water and death. The upper portion is used to signify new life. You may notice the obvious use of the yin-yang in the symbol. That is intentional. In Eastern Philosophy, the yin-yang is used to show how light and dark, life and death are bound together in cycle and unity. But that is not the message of the Gospel. In the Gospel message, Life triumphs over death and Good conquers evil. So in my symbol, the light portion of the symbol grows into an apex at the tip of the water droplet. This signifies that although we identify with His death, we also transcend death and sin through His resurrection from the dead.
Another Truth that the symbol conveys is the continual washing that we perform in our Christian life. The yin-yang tell us to conform to the cycle of good and evil, light and dark. But in Christianity, we instead hold onto the words of Paul:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
So the idea of Baptism becomes a daily event in which we identify with the death and new life of Christ.
By no means am I trying to replace the traditional symbol of Baptism with mine. For one, I do not think most Christians would accept the yin-yang being put in a Christian symbol. But I make it to shake up our familiarity with such a revolutionary and provocative symbol: Baptism. We need to grapple with what it truly means if we are to live the life that God intended – a life buried and hidden in Christ.
Christian Symbols: Communion
Featured to the left is a more traditional look of the symbology of Baptism. The cup and the bread are normally symbolized. Other elements are added depending on the denomination, but the cup and bread are constants. But I am not sure that the symbol really captures the deeper theological import of the ritual. So in an attempt to convey some of what Scriptures say about Baptism, let’s look at the passage we use to describe Baptism:
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
Communion is a commemoration of the death of Christ. It is our grounding point as a people. It is our commonality. By partaking in the meal we identify with His death and with His body. It makes us one. It is also a reminder that He is coming again. So communion unites us in Him, unites us together, and unites us in His coming. I decided that the cross should be the central focus. The circle is emblematic of being united in one body. And the circle jutting upwards is a reminder that we must always be looking for His coming.