Remembering Your Baptism
An interesting feature of the Lutheran tradition is the retention of many "catholic" practices. One particular practice one will find encouraged in our hymnals, prayerbooks, and even in the Small Catechism is the sign of the cross. This can sometimes make people think we are Roman Catholic but what if I told you this practice is an evangelical practice that stretches back to at least the second century? The natural questions arise such as, what does this mean? Why do Lutherans do it? And why should I consider doing it?
Note: catholic is not referring to the Roman Catholic Church, but means universal. We Lutherans believe we hold the catholic faith or the universal faith which also has practices that confess the belief that Jesus saves us by grace through faith alone.
The sign of the cross is an ancient tradition of the church that arose as early as the second century and still to this day is practiced among many different Christian traditions. So what does this practice mean? An interesting feature of the Lutheran Divine Liturgy is in its rubrics the encouragement to make the sign of the cross at the Invocation "in the name of the Father..." which says to do this in remembrance of your Baptism. The sign of the cross is primarily a reminder that God saved you and that you have been united to Christ in Holy Baptism. The sign of the cross indicates and reminds us that we receive the benefits of Christ's sacrifice on the cross in the waters of Baptism where St. Paul says we die and rise with Christ and become united to Him. This is the reason why Lutherans do it. In the Small Catechism, Luther encourages our morning and evening prayer to begin with the sign of the cross, to begin and end our day reminding ourselves that God has marked and adopted us as his own children. Another question that may be asked is when do you do it? After any prayer, you can do it or do the sign of the cross as a silent form of prayer. During the Divine Liturgy, the sign of the cross is usually made whenever the name of God is spoken: "in the name of the Father..." since these are the words we are baptized with.
So why should you do it? Because you have saved and secured in the ark of the holy Church, your old Adam has been drowned with Christ, and now you have risen with Christ and have become a new creation in Him. You should do it because every day we must be reminded that Christ has saved us with his precious blood and that no power of hell can ever take us from God's hand. You should do it because we need to be reminded daily that Christ has rescued us and no matter our faults or sins during the week God still forgives us anew each day. Each day should be consecrated and dedicated to God who makes us a new creation each and every day. This is why you should make the sign of the cross, not because of compulsion of Law and legalism, but because of the sheer Gospel promise it confesses before the world.