SIGN OF THE CROSS

The Sign of the Cross

One of the most ancient Christian symbols used in our worship is the Sign of the Cross. In Lutheran tradition, it fell into general disuse for generations but was never eliminated. The revival of its use can be attributed in large part to a renewed emphasis on baptism as the foundation of Christian life.

           

Baptism is not simply a one-time event, but rather an essential dynamic that continues throughout our lives. As Luther stated in his Large Catechism, each time we confess our sins and receive absolution, we return to the baptismal waters where the old Adam is drowned, and we emerge cleansed and blessed with God’s gift of new life. Luther advised in the Small Catechism that upon rising in the morning and upon retiring at night we begin our prayers making the sign of the cross and saying, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”    

    

In the baptismal rite, the cross marks the Christian as united to the Crucified. The sign is made on the forehead with the words:  “[name], child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with cross of Christ forever.” This “signing” is traceable to the beginnings of the church. The theologian Tertullian (160-230) wrote:  “In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our forehead with the sign of the cross.”

           

It became customary also to sign oneself not only on the forehead, but also from the head to the breast and from shoulder to shoulder. Another early theologian, John Chrysostom (349-407), writes:  “When, therefore, you sign yourself, think of the purpose of the cross, and quench anger and all other passions. Consider the price that has been paid for you. . . .”

   

Finally, the cross has also been a symbol of God’s blessing from early times. Both our identity as redeemed people and our mission as committed disciples are tied to the cross. From the foundations of the world to the end of time, all things hold together through the cross of Christ. By its power and in its sign, all creation is truly blessed.         

–Pastor Dean Bard, July 2011