Is The Sign Of The Cross Too Catholic?

Text: Romans 6:1-11

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Several years ago, in a previous church, a woman slandered me behind my back for teaching the confirmation students to make the sign of the cross. She said,  

"That cross-making stuff is just too Catholic!"  

Unfortunately, this woman did not understand that the sign of the cross was neither a medieval Roman Catholic practice nor a Reformation practice but an ancient Christian practice.  She did not realize that the making of the sign of the cross went all the way back to the third century.  For example, in 215 AD when Hippolytus of Rome said,   

"If you are tempted, hasten to sign yourself on the forehead against the Devil, provided you make it with faith, not for men to see but knowing how to use it like a breastplate. By signing our forehead and eyes with our hand, we repulse [the Evil One] who seeks to destroy us." 

In other words, making the sign of the cross on your body was a practice way before the development of the medieval Catholic Church. No wonder why Martin Luther embraced this simple Christian practice and included it in the Small Catechism.  

Unfortunately, the disgruntled woman did not know her very own Catechism. She did not know that the Small Catechism that she held so dear and the hymnal that she had used for decades encouraged people to make the sign of the holy cross. For example, Martin Luther states in The Small Catechism, 

In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall make the sign of the holy cross, and you shall say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then, kneeling or standing, you shall say the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer. 

Now, it must be said right now that making the sign of the holy cross is not mandatory or an obligation. Some people make it during the church service, and others do not. And that is completely fine. Again, it is not mandatory. However, at the same time, making the sign of the cross is not prohibited, nor should it be criticized. It is an issue of Christian freedom.  

But just for the sake of conversation, why would a person make the sign of the cross? 

Do we make the sign of the cross to look pious and holy? No. Do we make the sign of the cross to make our Baptist friends feel uncomfortable? Perhaps. Do we make the sign of the cross for the sake of tradition? No, it has nothing to do with any of these things.  

Dear friends, when the church conducts the baptismal rite, the pastor makes the sign of the cross upon the head and heart of the baptized – marking them as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. In other words, when you and I make the sign of the cross, we remember what happened to us in our Baptisms. In making the sign of the cross we remember that in our baptisms we have been buried and raised in Jesus. 

This is what the Apostle Paul tells you and me in our reading from the Epistle of Romans.  Paul tells you and me that in Baptism, we were buried into Jesus' death and raised in Christ to walk in the newness of life. That is to say, the Apostle Paul does not tell you, as a Christian, that you have to get busy and die, but instead, he announces to you the startling fact that in Baptism, you have already died with Christ. Death into Christ is not a task to be accomplished but a reality that already happened to you in your Baptism. In your Baptism, your old self died, and you were raised anew in Jesus.  

And so, when we make the sign of the cross, we are not trying to conjure up spiritual powers.  We are not doing ceremonial work to show obedience before God. We are not waving our hands as if we are casting a magical spell. No, instead, when you and I make the sign of the cross, we are reminding ourselves about the present reality and the present power of Baptism – that through the mighty waters of Baptism, you and I died with Christ and are raised anew in Jesus.  

Dear friends, it is important to stress that Baptism has never been a work of mankind. Too many well-intentioned Christians see Baptism as a decision of obedience toward God, which is why they often wait to get their children baptized. They want their child to make a personal decision to be baptized because, for them, Baptism is the first step to them becoming an obedient disciple of Jesus. (Makes sense, doesn't it?) If Baptism is an act of obedience, then one would need to wait on Baptism until the child can make their own decision of Baptism towards God. Oh, how we should cry a thousand tears over this kind of thinking, for what is supposed to be a tremendous gift of God is made by some into a work of mankind. Alas, Baptism is not about you and I laying claim upon God, but it is about the Lord almighty laying claim upon you and me while we were still sinners.  

And so, again, when we make the sign of the cross, we remember the reality that we currently belong to Jesus and that we presently have died to sin and are alive to God. Making the sign of the cross reminds you and me who we presently are and who we presently belong to. This is the reason why Hippolytus said that the sign of the cross repulses the Devil. Boldly making the sign of the cross and declaring to the Devil that we are buried and raised in Christ through Baptism is nothing less than telling the Devil to take a hike. The reason being - we are not under the dominion of sin, death, and the Devil but under the dominion and power of Christ.  

Furthermore, you and I must never forget that our Baptisms are not some past event that we need to remember, as if we have to be careful not to forget our Baptisms in the past. In other words, we never say, "I was baptized." Instead, we say, “I am baptized.” Indeed, your Baptism is something that happened in the past for you, but it is a present reality right now. Your Baptism is a present power of grace for you right now. You are presently and continually baptized as God’s child. This is why we cover our caskets with a white funeral pall during funerals. In other words, when you were baptized as a baby, not only was a cross drawn upon you marking you as one of the redeemed, but a white garment was wrapped around you, signifying that you are wrapped in the radiant righteousness of Jesus. And so, at death, the casket is also wrapped in a white garment to signify that the Christian's Baptism not only holds them through life's journey but holds them, especially at death. 

Blessed Saints, hear this: you are not a Christian who once upon a time was baptized, but instead, throughout every mountain top and valley of life, you are Christ's continually Baptized Child. In Baptism, you were marked by the sign of the cross and clothed in the radiance of Jesus' righteousness - and that does not run out.  You were and continue to be baptized into Christ’s death and life.  

Baptized Saints, this makes all the difference in the world. If Baptism is not a present reality, then your fate would be up for grabs. If your Baptism is a past reality conducted on the basis of your own will-power, then making the sign of the cross really does not mean much of anything. It is just an empty meaningless gesture. But since your Triune God snatched you unto Himself in Baptism, gave you His name, marked you as His own, clothed you with His goodness, and continues to hold you in your baptism, well… then a simple sign of the cross can be a great reminder of who you are and what God has done for you.      

Blessed Baptized Saints, you have been united with Jesus's death and life in holy Baptism. Baptism is the means by which your Lord God snatches you, marks you, and gives you an identity. You do not belong to sin, death, and the Devil, but you belong to Christ. No one will snatch you from His hand. And so, enjoy this great gift of Baptism and if you so choose, you are free to make the sign of the cross.   

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

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