- Written by Pastor Shawn Nettleton Pastor Shawn Nettleton
- Created: January 23 2018 January 23 2018
Since the inception of Christianity, the cross has been a symbol of our Lord's sacrificial death for our sins and the sins of the whole world. It is our chief symbol because it is the symbol of our salvation. Crosses are front and center in Christian churches, they adorn the walls of our homes and are worn as an expression of faith. The cross is a symbol of blessing and hope because it reminds us, points us to, symbolizes the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through which all blessings flow and all hope is to be found. The cross of Christ defines us now and forever.
As you have noticed, our new hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, encourages the people of God to make the sign of the cross during the invocation in remembrance of their baptism. Some of you may have thought, and maybe still think, that this is a Roman Catholic ritual. Actually, it is very catholic, that is, Christian, because the practice of signing oneself with the cross is the most ancient Christian ritual or ceremony we have.
In fact, in the Small Catechism, Dr. Luther suggests that when we get up in the morning and before we go to bed in the evening, we should, before we pray, "make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
So why does the hymnal and Luther encourage Christians to make the sign of the cross? What does it symbolize? Making the sign of the cross reminds us that we are a baptized child of God. It was there at our baptism that the sign of the cross was first placed upon our foreheads and upon our hearts to "mark [us] as one redeemed by Christ the crucified" because that is what literally happened. It was there in those waters of Holy Baptism that our life in Christ began as we were buried with Him in death and raised with Him to new life in His resurrection (Romans 6:1–11). It was there in those waters that our life and Christ's life became one life. It was there in those waters that that name of the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit was placed upon us. That is, we were marked with the cross and with God's triune name forever. This was God's way of saying, "this one is mine," "this one is my beloved child."
Obviously, making the sign of the cross is a Christian liberty that one may or may not choose to do. Like any other ritual or ceremony, Luther reminds us that we should not and "do not make it a rigid law to bind or entangle anyone’s conscience, but use it in Christian liberty as long, when, where and how you find it to be practical and useful.” 1 One can surely remember their baptism without making the sign of cross. And yet, for nearly two millennia, the practice of making the sign of the cross, crossing oneself, has been for many a deep and powerful way or recalling who they are and whose they are, marked with the cross of Christ.
When we make the sign of the cross, we remember our baptism. We remember that we were marked with the cross, that is, redeemed by Christ the crucified and risen Lord. We remember that it was there that God called us by name, made us His very own child, even as He put His name upon us; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we make the sign of the cross, we remember who we really are—a baptized and beloved child of God.
Making the sign of the cross and remembering our baptism is a good way, as Luther suggests, to begin and end the day, to begin worship and prayer. For it is our baptism, after all, that grants us our entrance into the Christian life as God's redeemed and beloved child, gives us the privilege to pray, praise and live as God's very own.
- Martin Luther, “The German Mass and Order of Service (1526)” in Luther’s Works (AE), vol. 53 (Fortress Press, 1965), 61.
Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at nettleton@StJohnsFC.org or at 970-305-2420.