“That’s Jesus Christ!” my two-year old son exclaimed in an excited but reverent whisper. We stood together in awe amid the Christmas crowds at the Christus statue in Temple Square. My son wriggled against our arms during the audio presentation, eager for the speaking to end so he could run up to the magnificent likeness of Jesus and give it a “big hug.”
The larger-than-life Christus statue stands prominently year-round in the North Visitors’ Center in Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah. The original, created by sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and located in Copenhagen, Denmark, inspired leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) to adopt it as a symbol of the Church’s focus on Jesus Christ. Now, replicas of the Christus can be found in several LDS Visitors’ Centers throughout the world.
It is not uncommon to see a Christus statuette displayed in homes of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Recently, the Christus on my mantle has served as a poignant reminder to me of Christ’s roles in my life. (Please note that Mormons do not worship the statue itself but display it to inspire and to remind us of Christ and His teachings.)
First, take a moment to look at the stance of the Christus, as shown in this photo. Notice the outstretched arms, the foot stepping forward, the prints of the nails on the hands and feet, the wound in the side, the head slightly bowed.
The specific stance of the Christus is symbolic to me of some of Christ’s important roles:
Creator. As depicted in the Christus, Christ has power to create with His hands. Perhaps the position of His arms shows Him displaying the grandeur and expanse of His creations. As Paul wrote, “For by him were all things created” (Colossians 1:16). And, the Prophet Joseph Smith testified, “that by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:24).
King. Christ appears to stand majestically, acknowledging His people with devotion as He lowers His head. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16). His stance resembles many artists’ depictions of His Second Coming, when every knee shall bow at His feet (D&C 88:104), and He shall rule and reign over the earth in righteousness (Articles of Faith 1:10).
Sacrificial Lamb of God, Savior. Perhaps this was Christ’s humble pose when He offered to carry out the Father’s plan to redeem mankind by sacrificing Himself for sin. In obeisance to the Father, He submitted Himself in the pre-mortal existence with: “Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:27). He was chosen and anointed to be the Savior, as the Latin title “Christus” denotes. After triumphing over death and sin, He showed His resurrected body to His disciples in Jerusalem and to the people in the Americas: “Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world” (3 Nephi 11:14).
Friend. His outstretched arms are ready to embrace us when we need to feel “encircled in the arms of [His] love” (2 Nephi 1:15). One foot is stepping towards us (an outreaching gesture similar to Michelangelo’s finger of God in The Creation of Adam), which to me portrays how earnestly He seeks to be near us. His gesture is that of someone who cares—indeed, a friend. In fact, He called us His friends, for whom He was willing to lay down His life (John 15:13). (Coincidentally, His right hand’s position resembles the American Sign Language sign for “I love you,” which, though not intentional, is still fitting.)
Burden Bearer. His outreaching arms also appear eager to take a heavy box or burden from us and carry it. He beckons, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-30). Notably, Thorvaldsen’s original Christus bears these Danish words: “Kommer Til Mig” – “Come Unto Me.”
Benefactor. It is as if He is motioning for us to behold the bounteous blessings which He has given us, encouraging us to see His hand in our lives. His hands are ready to bestow even more blessings. Truly, it is through Christ that we receive all good things from Heavenly Father; though we are undeserving, Christ’s grace grants us heaven’s tender mercies (Moroni 7:24). Christ tells us that His arm of mercy is ready to receive us: “Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me” (3 Nephi 9:14).
Intercessor, Advocate. Perhaps His stance is that of presenting Himself before the Father, interceding and advocating our pleas for mercy. He appeals on our behalves: “Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life” (D&C 45:3-5). While entreating our cause, He presents the nail prints in His hands, where we have quite literally been graven upon His palms (Isaiah 49:16). He has already paid the debt we incur through sin and satisfied the demands of justice.
The Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). His hands do not point a direction to go but instead draw attention to Himself as The Way—the way to live now, the way to eternal life, the way to come unto the Father. He acts as our Exemplar: “What manner of men [and women] ought ye to be? Verily, I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). He serves as our Teacher, perhaps portrayed here to be using His hands while expounding doctrine—doctrine such as, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Certainly, so much more could be said about the roles of Jesus Christ; this is not a comprehensive list. These are select roles Thorvaldsen’s Christus has come to symbolize for me. Christ is real; I know that. Thinking of and writing about Him fills my soul with reverence, stillness, gratitude, and wonder. As I gaze up at the Christus, He stands supreme, and I stand all amazed.
What thoughts or feelings does the Christus stir up in you? What roles does Christ have in your life? What think ye of Christ?
To learn more about Christ and about Mormons as Christians, read this talk by Apostle Robert D. Hales (one of many similar talks).