During the Invocation mentioned in last week’s blog, the pastor will make the sign of the cross over herself. There are a couple of common misconceptions about this action:
- This is something only the pastor does;
- This is a holdover from Roman Catholic worship, and Protestants don’t do that.
The fact is, Christians have been making the sign of the cross since the church’s earliest days. In the first few centuries, worshipers used their thumb on their forehead to make the sign of the cross. This was a way for God’s people to mark themselves as believers in Christ, a way to identify followers of Jesus in the early church. Luther and other reformers saw it as a beneficial practice for corporate worship and individual prayer, that it wasn’t meant just for Roman Catholics.
Eventually, Christians made the cross over their whole body as we do today, using their whole hand instead of just the thumb, two, or three fingers.
The sign of the cross is not a superstition, nor empty ritual, but it reminds us, as it did the early Christians, of our own identity in Christ. We often perform this gesture when the words “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” are spoken, because of the connection between the Triune God and the cross. The pastor uses these same words when baptizing someone, or when we receive communion. When we make the sign of the cross, we are remembering our own baptism. We are baptized in the name of the Triune God, and belong to Him, and we stand in community with other baptized believers in worship.
Some congregations have a tradition of stopping at the baptismal font, dipping their hand in the water and making the sign of the cross when entering the sanctuary.
Making the sign of the cross is not by any means mandatory for the members of the congregation. But we should also not feel any trepidation about making this very meaningful gesture, to identify ourselves as children of God. I feel it is both a blessing and a gift to be able to do so, especially in the company of our fellow believers in worship!
May grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love! Amen.