Explaining Biblical Themes :
Signs And Symbols (part 2)
Signs And Symbols
Symbols alert, remind, explain, help to express the inexpressible, express
feelings too deep for words, and teach. (See also Signs and Symbols (Part 1))
In the book of Acts written by Luke we read that at the Feast of Pentecost -
a Jewish festival initially a harvest festival which became associated with the
giving of the Law on Sinai - of the coming of the Holy Spirit of God to the
apostles. This coming was symbolised by a sound like a rushing wind and the
appearance of tongues of fire above their heads
Acts chapter 2, verse 1 - 4 When the
day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound
like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house
where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that
separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the
Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues n as the Spirit enabled
Moses experienced a bush on fire which was not consumed by the fire when he
received power from God to free his people
Exodus chapter 3, verses 1 - 2 Now
Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian,
and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the
mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire
from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn
The badge of the Church of Scotland is a burning bush and its Latin motto,
significantly for the present time, means "and yet it was not
Fire is power on the move. It can give movement, heat and light; it can be
destructive; it can be cleansing; it can be deceptively still. Firefighters
learn to sense this stillness and prepare themselves for the "mighty,
rushing wind" which presages the burst of powerfully over-whelming living
flame which will follow.
Whatever we believe actually happened in that quiet room where the apostles
were still and at prayer, they emerged with new power to bring healing and the
light of Christ to a society in need of cleansing. That power is even now
available for Christ's people if we would ask for the Holy Spirit to come upon
The flame of a candle can be a tribute and memorial. In a church it
symbolises the presence of God; Jesus as the light of the world; goodness in a
world of darkness.
When after five or six years of training for the ministry of Word and
Sacrament ie to teach and preach the Word of God; baptise and celebrate Holy
Communion, a minister will be ordained to that calling. As a sign that that
empowerment comes from God the new minister will wear two white linen bands
symbolising the tongues of fire which appeared above the apostles' heads, and a
preaching scarf symbolically embroidered. An academic hood and gown are worn to
indicate the learning which enables him or her to preach with authority.
Historically cassocks and the colour black were worn to make the personality of
the minister recede so that nothing would detract from the preaching of the
Word. Even black gloves were sometimes worn.
Colour is used in the Pulpit Fall and Bible markers to mark the mood of the
seasons of the Church's year. Purple signifies preparation and penance and so
is used during Advent and Lent (no colour on Good Friday or Saturday); white or
gold celebration and rejoicing at Christmas, Easter, weddings and sacraments;
green re-commitment and growth in Christ on Sundays after Pentecost (but First
Trinity Sunday and Sunday of Christ the King - white); red the fire and power
of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, ordinations and confirmation.
Intertwined Greek letters or a cross are regularly embroidered on the pulpit
fall. The cross used may have a special significance like our own St Cuthbert's
IHS are the first three letters of Jesus. H is the Greek
script for E.
XP the first three letters of Christ. P is Greek for R.
AO the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet - God is the first
and the last
Two symbolic actions are the laying on of hands and anointing with
That a minister has been called by the Holy Spirit of God to his or her
ministry is recognised by the laying on of hands by Presbytery ministers and
elders at his or her ordination.
That Jesus healed by touch and the laying on of hands
Matthew chapter 9, verse 29 - 30 Then
he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith will it be done
to you"; and their sight was restored.
Matthew chaper 8, verse 3 Jesus
reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said.
"Be clean!" Immediately he was cured n of his leprosy
Mark chapter 1, verses 30 - 31
Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about
her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and
she began to wait on them.
Luke chapter 4, verse 40 When the sun
was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness,
and laying his hands on each one, he healed them
This is the authority by which those involved in the Healing Ministry lay on
hands to bring the healing power of God's love to those who seek it. There is
biblical authority for anointing with oil as a practice of blessing and
empowerment. Jesus spoke of himself as the anointed servant
Luke chapter 4, verses 18 - 19"The
Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to
the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of
sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the
The Epistle of James mentions the use of oil in prayers for healing
James chapter 5, verses14 - 15 Is any
one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and
anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith
will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned,
he will be forgiven.
Making the sign of the Cross with oil on the forehead is still practised
during the blessing of healing for those who wish it.
All symbols are aids to worship but none more important than the bread and
wine of Communion "set apart from all common uses to this holy use and
mystery" to aid us to commune with Christ, the family of our own
congregation, Christians everywhere and the souls already in full communion
with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
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