Last Sunday (20th) in our ward, we had two missionaries - one coming home and another leaving - giving their accounts and testimonies of the gospel, the Savior and of missionary work during Sacrament meeting. It’s always edifying and uplifting to listen to the experiences and preparations of these young men and women. The impression for most people of these missionaries being spiritually precocious is normal, considering their ages. As usual, I tried to glean as much as I could from their testimonies, talks and reports. One significant and profound insight stood out.
The returning missionary (an elder, who served in Guatemala) said that one of the difficult things for him while serving was having to carry firewood on his back when he and his fellow missionaries had to help a family.
Samoa, in many ways, is very similar to a lot of the places to where missionaries are called and assigned. And so I immediately was able to relate to the task as I reflected on my own boyhood experiences growing up in Samoa where gathering firewood was/is a daily chore. However, something else was more immediate and spiritually assuring from my recollection of the image of carrying firewood on one's back especially considering the church setting and the spiritual context of the Sacrament meeting. It had something to do with Isaac, Abraham’s son (more on this later). I thought about the connection after the meeting and during the week and how profound and inspiring it would have been had the missionary made the connection, at least of service and sacrifice, in his comments. These were just my own thoughts though.
But the rest of the significance and relevance of the connection is even more profound and goes beyond what was mentioned. So let me comment/editorialize on the more whole, complete and extended meaning and significance of the symbolic connection of the wood/firewood.
First, it’s common knowledge that Isaac was a type of Christ, being the “only son” and was offered as a sacrifice. But there is another even more important and key symbol in the whole story and allegory. It is subtle yet effective and consequential. This key symbol, again, is the wood/firewood.
When Abraham prepared the journey to the place of the sacrifice, he placed the wood upon Isaac.
"And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together." (Genesis 22:6)
Isaac carries the wood on his back to the place of the sacrifice (Mount Moriah). Similarly, Christ carried his cross to the place of the crucifixion (Golgotha - "mount of execution"). Hence the wood is the symbol for the cross - a wooden cross.
Moreover, Isaac carried the wood which would eventually be used to kill him as he will be "placed upon" the burning wood
"And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood." (Genesis 22:9)
Likewise, Christ carried his cross (wooden) which was his instrument of death as he was "placed upon" that cross.
Interestingly, there is a similar pattern of reversal also. After carrying the wood Isaac was "placed upon" the wood. Christ, after carrying his cross, was "placed upon" the cross.
Similar still, though different in some respects, is that wood comes from a tree and a tree is often associated with the cross according to the Bible:
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:
And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre.
1 Peter 2:24
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.