Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Branded For God


Dear Friends,

Christians make me laugh. The liturgical traditions - Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran - think that our Charismatic way of worshiping with our hands raised in worship is emotionally excessive and looks absolutely ridiculous. The fact that Jesus, all Jews and the early church worshiped and prayed with upraised hands does not sway them in their belief that this is a very inappropriate physical gesture for today. They don't care if the early church worshiped that way. It just ain't right.

And Pentecostals, Charismatics, Baptists, Reformed think that making the sign of the cross on our bodies is emotionally excessive and looks absolutely ridiculous. The fact that following the resurrection of Jesus, His followers made the sign of the cross on their body does not sway us in our belief that this is a very inappropriate physical gesture for today. We don't care if the early Christians did it. It just ain't right. 

So let's talk about this one gesture that evokes so much contemptuous disdain from our Evangelical and Pentecostal brothers and sisters. Touching the forehead, the center of the chest and from the right shoulder to the left shoulder. The sign of the cross †. 

(In the 16th century, the Catholic Church changed the ancient practice and begin to touch the left shoulder first and then the right. No one knows why. The Orthodox Church still follows the ancient pattern of right to left and so do I.)

Shortly after the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection, His followers drew crosses as the symbol of their faith. Archaeologists have found drawings of crosses with stick figures of Jesus on them. But most drawings from that period of time in Christian history are of "empty" crosses declaring to fellow Christians and others that Christ's life did not end on the cross and He lives forever. In that early persecuted church, the sign of the cross was often used as a secret gesture from one Christian to another (that gesture is the same one I use when I make the sign of the cross over you at the end of our service). And, throughout time, Christians have been making this silent gesture to other Christians as a way of saying “God bless you.”

The most common objection I've heard to making the sign of the cross on one's self is that it's “too Catholic.” But the earliest Christians used the sign of the cross two centuries before the establishment of the Church at Rome so the only possible objection we could have is that it’s “too Christian.”

Later on, Christians used the name of the triune God to sign one's self in the name of the “Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When we do so, we are not simply naming the One who we worship. When we say His name, we invoke the nature and substance of the triune God and we come into His presence. (Exodus 20:24b NAS)

The mark of the cross is God's brand. Old Testament shepherds branded or marked their sheep with a vegetable and mineral dye that would stain the wool and not wash off. Cowboys in the old west, and still today, brand horses and cattle with hot irons to mark the livestock as theirs.  A mark or brand is a claim of ownership.  

When you were baptized, the mark of the cross was made upon your forehead. Like the branding of sheep to claim ownership, the mark of the cross branded you for God during your baptism. That mark claimed your spirit, soul and body for Jesus. The mark of the cross is the seal of the Holy Spirit.

When we make the sign of the cross we invoke God’s blessings by acknowledging that we belong to Him. Marking ourselves with the cross of Jesus should never be done casually or carelessly. It should be done slowly and reverently and with faith. Many times you will feel an inrush of His peace as you do so. Times when I'm stressed or just getting too intense about something, I'll do nothing more than slowly make the sign of the cross and immediately feel the pressure of my life being replaced with the peace of God.

The sign of the cross should not be used ritualistically or superstitiously. It's not a spiritual magical charm that will protect you from all evil and make you rich, happy and thin. But we are stamped, sealed, branded and claimed for Jesus with the mark of the cross, and when we trace the cross on our body, we are saying to the One who paid the price and now owns us, “Here I am Lord. I'm all yours. Make me according to the desire of your heart.” Amen?

1 comment:

  1. To this day my mother "crosses" me before embarking on a trip. And she says God Bless You. I so appreciate this gesture as a reminder that I am claimed by HIM wherever my travels take me.

    ReplyDelete

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