A symbol is a sign that reminds us of something or someone that is not visible to us. Symbols are often very familiar items, but they can come from a different culture and from hundreds of years ago. A symbol can be an object, a photograph, a drawing, a pattern, a colour, or a letter. Symbols help us convey important messages without words – sometimes they convey feelings better than words. They can make us think and feel deeply. They can help us remember important events.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada uses symbols that remind us of the history of our faith and God’s continuing presence in our lives. We see these symbols in our church buildings, on tables, on walls, on banners, in our worship materials, and in our ways of worshiping. These faith symbols help us see and feel and understand the invisible. Some of these symbols include:
The burning bush reminds us of the bush that Moses saw (Exodus 3:2). It was burning but was not destroyed. Presbyterians are deeply committed to being the church, the body of Christ, which can never be destroyed.
The dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. At Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit descended like a dove (Mark 1:10). Presbyterians believe in the power of God’s Spirit at work in our world and in our life.
The bread and cup of wine are symbols of the Lord’s Supper or Communion (Luke 22:19-20). The loaf of bread symbolizes the one body of Christ from which we are all fed. The cup of wine symbolizes the blood of Christ that gives us new life. Presbyterians celebrate God’s presence and feel nurtured through participation in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
The empty cross is a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. Presbyterians believe that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and then rose again. There is a large cross at the front of the sanctuary of most Presbyterian churches. The empty cross reminds us of the new life we have through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The fish is a symbol for the followers of Jesus Christ. Early Christians used this symbol as a secret sign to identify themselves to each other because it was dangerous to be a Christian. The first letters of the Greek words for “Jesus”, “Christ”, “God”, “Son”, and “Saviour” spell the Greek word for “fish”.
The Bible is a symbol of God’s truth and instructions to us. Presbyterians believe the Bible is the authoritative source of our faith. Just before worship begins, the Bible is carried in to the sanctuary, placed on the pulpit and opened. This practice began in the Middle Ages as a way for Christians to express respect for the one copy of the Bible available to their community. Today it signifies the centrality of the Bible to Presbyterian worship.
The Quatrefoil, an ubiquitous feature in Gothic architecture, symbolises the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The Triquetra, a stylised representation of a ‘Celtic knot’, symbolises the Holy Trinity – the understanding of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.