Today i was reading the chapter (Ch 24) on how the ordinances of the gospel relate to the Atonement. This is my report on that chapter (mostly paraphrased). Callister wrote that without the atonement, all ordinances no matter what they are, would "be like a check written on an empty account" (278). He explains that the atonement is what gives life and power to gospel principles and ordinances for salvation -- because of what the atonement is and has done for us, the ordinances we participate in can direct our thoughts to that event; they are meant to be mechanical efforts that focus our "spiritual, emotional, and intellectual efforts" on divine meaning (279). If they are done without this focus on the mind and heart on the savior, then they are meaningless (280).
Callister goes on to explain that ordinances are to be symbols that we feel and understand through spiritual means (281), to remind us of "the cost of salvation" that "could be paid only in the sacrifice of a god" (283) -- yet they are nonetheless JUST symbols, albeit powerful ones (284). It isn't the performance of baptism that saves - it is the atonement that saves - and baptism only has meaning and spiritual substance to it because of the atonement of Jesus Christ (285). The symbolism of the ordinances is meant to serve as a reminder of that sacrifice; to help us understand and not forget something that we are liable to forget in the hustle and bustle of life (286). Participating in the ordinances meaningfully "draws, channels, and focuses our spiritual thoughts on the essence of the gospel -- the Atonement" and we have the chance to remember it (287) -- "Somehow the very act of remembering the Savior and reflecting upon his life is, in and of itself, a catalyst for goodness" (289) -- as well as to reflect on the condition of our lives and where we ought to be -- and through that, gain new resolve and commit ourselves to the Lord (291).
Callister stated that Christ is "the master teacher and the master leader, but he is also the master psychologist. He knows that in our weakness we need to commit not just once at baptism, but frequently thereafter. Each week, each month, each year as we stretch for our hand to partake of his emblems we commit with our honor, for whatever it is worth, to serve him, keep his commandments, and put our life in harmony with the divine standard" (292). it isn't the act of partaking the sacrament that changes us, but rather the reflective moments thereby when we catch glimpses of the meaning of christ's sacrifice and love that then empowers us to turn to him "there is a certain gravitational pull from spirit to Spirit that draws us heavenward" -- there is enabling power/grace in ordinances (292-293).
the atonement is always the focus of any "saving" ordinance; they are sacred acts that Christ has commanded us to perform so that we would be pointed to him, reminded of him, think of him and understand him, and be recommitted to him -- and thus changed by him. As put by Callister, they are symbols of the atonement and the "floodgates" that open up the very blessings and grace of the atonement (297).
it's a fantastic chapter. i hope you'll read it. (as well as the rest!)