The Savior’s Touch as a Symbol of the Atonement

The Savior’s Touch as a Symbol of the Atonement

Meridian Magazine / by Maurine Proctor / March 02, 2023 at 10:30PM

The ideas for this article are inspired by Symbols and Shadows: Unlocking a Deeper Understanding of the Atonement by Donald W. Parry and Jay A. Parry. 

Photos by Scot Facer Proctor

As humans, we don’t just talk to each other, we also rely on wordless communications. We laugh, we grunt, we raise an eyebrow, we grimace—but researchers are concluding that human touch may be more powerful than we ever supposed.

Locked in our skin, lonely drifters on a planet, we can be starved for affection and contact without touch.

The New York Times tells us that “Students who received a supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class as those who did not…A sympathetic touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that the visit lasted twice as long, compared with estimates from people who were untouched.” Researchers have found “that a massage from a loved one can not only ease pain but also soothe depression and strengthen a relationship.”

Sports teams whose members touch each other with a hardy pat on the back are twice as likely to win.

Sadly, when researchers were trying to figure out why some orphanages had mortality rates as high as 30-40%, they learned that the babies and little children did not receive enough stimulation. Touch was as important as food to them. Without a loving touch, starved for affection, too often the babies turned their heads toward the wall in their lonely cribs and died.

We are souls who yearn for touch, who need it like air, like water in the desert, like air for the suffocating.

Nothing More Personal than the Savior’s Actual Touch

Of the many symbols of the atonement, perhaps none is more personal than the actual touch of the Savior. It is this touch from Him that transforms, lifts and heals, that strengthens feeble knees, crowds disease out of the stricken, and brings the flutter of life back to the chest where a heart has stopped beating.

Very often Jesus touched the people he healed, reached out and caressed them who were faltering, connected in that most sacred and personal flesh-to-flesh way that only a touch can be. He gave a touch that affirms and said, ‘I see you, I know you.’ His touch said ‘my soul and your soul have entwined.’ He reached across the lonely barrier that spans our distance as isolated travelers to say, “It is I. Be not afraid.”

What is interesting about physical touch is that you can’t touch a multitude at once. You can’t put your touch over a microphone and blare it to scores of thousands at once like you can a voice. A touch is, by its very nature, a one-on-one experience. It is personal, directed at you.

No Need to Touch to Perform Miracles

We know, of course, that as the mighty Son of God, He did not need to touch anyone personally to do His miracles. He could perform miracles without even a nod of his head or a wave of his hand. When the Centurion came to him pleading for the Lord to heal his servant, it was done from a distance only with a word. The servant was healed in the “self-same hour.” (Matt. 8:13). No touch was required for the Lord to heal another.

Yet we have so many references to his touching those who came to him with yearning need. He was not in any way a distant God, a being someplace else beyond a cloud. He was one to enfold people in a divine embrace.

When Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with fever, “he touched her hand, and the fever left her” (Matt. 8:15). When Peter, James, and John were awestruck on the Mount of Transfiguration, “Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid” (Matt 17:7).

When two blind men were sitting by wayside, they called out to Jesus to have mercy on them. While “the multitude rebuked them,” Jesus asked “What will ye that I shall do unto you? They say that our eyes may be opened. So Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes” (Matt 20:34).

Taken by the Hand

When the Lord awoke Jaurus’s daughter who had died, “He took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, “Talitha cumi” (Mark 5:41). The King James Bible at that point translates the next phrase as “Damsel, I say unto thee arise” but an even more intimate, and just as correct interpretation is “Little lamb, arise.” Such tenderness.

A father came to the Lord with his child who had been possessed with a “foul spirit” since he was small. The grievance this brought to the boy had been immense. He had “ofttimes” cast him into the fire and into waters “to destroy him.” The “spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.

“But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up: and he arose” (Mark 9: 20-27).

A woman had been infirm for 18 years and “could in no wise lift up herself.” Jesus saw her “and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And he laid his hands on her and immediately she was made straight” (Luke 13: 11-13).

When Peter tried to walk upon the water toward the Savior on the Sea of Galilee, and then panicked before the boisterous sea, “immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand and caught him” (Matt. 14:31). We think of Jesus catching up the faltering Peter and wish that he were there to lift us in our tempestuous times, but, of course, He is—holding out His arms to us so we won’t sink.

All this means so much to me who also find myself so many times in need of healing or on boisterous waves. The Lord doesn’t send a substitute or watch out for me at a distance. He walks across the storm to find me where I am and touches me. How can He be so attentive and care so much?

Little children he “took…up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:16). For those who were sick in a multitude he laid “his hands on every one of them and healed them” (Luke 4:40).

Touching the Unclean—the Untouchables

But that is not all. The Jews had a very clear standard and rigorous view about

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Will this change how you feel about touching someone especially someone who is going through a trauma or needs extra support?

Image fixed 20230317 ~ Primus Pilus 



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