Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Sign of the Cross

Orthodox Christian and #1 ranked Tennis Player, Novak Djokovic
Dear Friends,

Christians make me laugh. Most Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans think that the Charismatic way of worshiping with hands raised high in worship is emotionally excessive and looks absolutely ridiculous. The fact that Jesus, all His disciples 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.

Pentecostals, Charismatics, Baptists and Reformed think that making the “sign of the cross” is emotionally excessive and looks absolutely ridiculous. The fact that after the resurrection of Jesus, His followers made the sign of the cross on their body does not sway them in their belief that this is a very inappropriate physical gesture for today. They 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 those who sit on the Evangelical and Pentecostal side of our ecumenical church pew. The ancient practice of making the sign of the cross † is made by touching the forehead, the center of the chest and from the right shoulder to the left shoulder. (One thousand years later, the Catholic Church changed it and began 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. Archeologists 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 used by priests and pastors when they make the sign of the cross over you at the end of the 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 Protestant objection I’ve heard to making the sign of the cross on one’s self is that it’s “too Catholic.” Is it really? Five hundred years before the sign of the cross was incorporated in the (Roman Catholic) church service, Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, “Let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in our goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are traveling, and when we are at rest.” 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 cross 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. We receive His power and blessing when we invoke the Name of God over ourselves and others. “In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.” Exodus 20:24 ESV

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 baptismal mark of the cross branded you for God. That mark sealed the deal and claimed your spirit, soul and body for Jesus. When you were baptized, you were signed, sealed and delivered to God! 

When we make the sign of the cross on ourselves we trace our baptismal “brand” and acknowledge that we belong to Him. Marking ourselves with the cross of Jesus Christ 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. Even if making the sign of the cross on yourself has not been your church’s tradition, you may wish to return to this ancient Christian practice during your prayer times, when you lie down and when you awaken.

The sign of the cross should not be used ritualistically. 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 am all Yours. Make me according to the desires of Thy heart.”

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The AMEN Corner is a weekly devotional for the family and friends of New Hope Family Church. It is intended for this devotional to be strengthening, encouraging or comforting and your comments too should be for the glory of God and reflect the intended purpose of these posts.

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