The Sign of the Cross

One month ago, Pastor Dan Walters wrote a great post on his blog about the practice of making “The Sign of the Holy Cross.” He wrote about how Dr. Martin Luther encouraged the practice in these instructions in his Small Catechism:

In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pastor Walters and I both grew up watching Kirby Puckett make the sign of the cross before he went to bat. We both grew up in the same town, went to the same Lutheran schools (a year apart), and studied from the same catechism with the same teachers. But we didn’t read these words in those catechisms, because our catechisms didn’t have these words.

Luther’s original Small Catechism of 1529 did. The Small Catechism included in the 1580 Book of Concord did. The version of the Dresden Catechism, published in 1881 by Northwestern Publishing House, had these words. But sometime before the WELS’ Gausewitz Catechism was revised and published in 1956, someone made the decision that it would be better to remove these instructional words from this book of instruction. (Someone who has access to a copy of the original 1917 Gausewitz catechism will have to confirm whether the change was made in the 1917 or 1956 version.) When the synod again revised the language of the Catechism in the early 80s and again in the 90s (to reflect language in the new hymnal), they continued to leave these words for those who read the Small Catechism in German, in the Book of Concord, or in a catechism published by another Lutheran body.

I can probably guess why they did it. It probably had something to do with the fact that this practice had become exclusively associated with Roman Catholicism. Of course, it’s not as though they had removed a major doctrinal point from the Catechism. It’s a pious practice which had probably become neglected and even associated with superstition and the false teaching and practice of the Roman church.

So our catechism simply introduced Luther’s morning and evening prayers with the Trinitarian invocation. I always thought that was odd. It didn’t make sense to me. It would have made sense if I had known that Luther was suggesting that we begin and end each day with the very same words and the very same sign used at our baptism, a constant reminder that each and every day we rise and we rest in the name of the Triune God and marked with the cross of Christ.It would also have been useful to know that Luther continued to say:

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

That would explain why morning devotions after breakfast at my Grandpa’s always concluded with the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and Luther’s Morning Prayer. Every morning. Again, Luther continues:

Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn…

Oh, it looks like Grandpa learned that from his catechism, too.

Whether or not someone actually makes the sign of the cross is not a big deal. The point is that these are some important words. They direct us to our baptism and the core of our Christian faith at the beginning and end of every day. I wish they had been left alone. I wish I had learned them earlier. I am glad to see that our new hymnal supplement quotes these words in a footnote to Luther’s prayers in a few of the devotions. I’m glad to see that some attention has been given to them in various articles and blog posts, such as the one mentioned above and those below. And I hope that someday Luther’s instructional words will be re-inserted back into a future edition of a synodical catechism.

Below is an excerpt from an article from the March 2010 issue of Worship the Lord newsletter, entitled Accuracy: Urban Legends in our Churches by Pastor Jon Buchholz, President of the Arizona-California District of the WELS.

Myth: Making the sign of the cross is a Catholic superstition.
Reality: The sign of the cross is a way for Christians to remember their baptism.

We worship in the name of the Father and of the ☩ Son and of the Holy Spirit. The rubric calls for the pastor to make the sign of the cross over the people. Some in the congregation make the sign of the cross over themselves at the same time, and people think, “Hmm, Catholic visitors today?”

The sign of the cross itself, the proper way to hold one’s hand when making it, whether to go from right to left or left to right, and all the different times to make it are subjects for deeper exploration elsewhere. (Luther’s morning and evening prayers in the Small Catechism include an enjoinder to bless oneself with the holy cross. In corporate worship, appropriate times to make the sign of the cross include at the invocation, the Incarnatus (in the Nicene Creed, when we say, “And became fully human”), after receiving the Sacrament of the Altar, and at the benediction.) Suffice to say that making the sign of the cross is an ancient practice that serves a very simple purpose: It is a memory device to help Christians find comfort and strength in their baptism.

Did you think about your baptism today? Would it be helpful if you had a simple tool to help you recall each day that your old self was drowned and put to death in the waters of Baptism and that now you have been resurrected as a new creation, clothed with Christ, forgiven, and given a new identity as a child of God? Recalling our baptism gives us strength in the face of temptation, comfort in affliction, and joy in all of God’s promises sealed to us in his covenant of grace.

When you were baptized, the pastor said, “Receive the sign of the holy cross, both upon the head and upon the heart, to mark you as a redeemed child of Christ.” Then he baptized you into the name of the Triune God. The sign of the cross at the invocation can tangibly recall the name into which we were baptized and in which we worship. At the Incarnatus we remember Jesus, our brother, sharing our humanity to fulfill all righteousness. As the pastor dismisses us from the Lord’s Table, we remember that through Baptism are we worthy to receive the precious gifts of Jesus’ true body and blood. As we are dismissed with the blessing, we go in the power of Baptism, to bear Christ’s name in the world.

Certainly the sign of the cross can become a superstitious device, like an amulet or a charm; anything good can be perverted. But the simple sign of the cross can be a powerful reminder of something that we want to remember often.

Bless yourself with the holy cross, and as you do so, recall all the gifts of God’s grace!

Here are a few other articles on the same subject:

Trip

I spent most of the last half of September on the road. On September 13–15 I was in Norfolk, Virginia, for a WELS Military Contact Pastor Workshop. This is for pastors who serve near military installations. There were over 20 pastors there from all over the country. The workshop itself was quite good, and it gave me the opportunity to visit with old friends and to get to know some new ones. We were able to tour the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS George HW Bush.

On September 19th, I traveled to Milwaukee so that I could attend the Symposium on Worship and Outreach at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. From there I made my way up to Oshkosh, then Rhinelander, then New Ulm, MN, spending the next week in the Twin Cities. We were there for Sara’s brother’s wedding. In between the Symposium and the wedding, I was able to spend time with all my siblings who live in the area, and a great number of friends. I realized later that I was able to spend time with each of the men who stood up with me in my wedding. What was remarkable and enjoyable was not only to spend time with the guys, but I also got to see their families. When I got married, all of those men were single, and now they are all married with children. It was really quite a joy to see these friends of mine now fulfilling their calling as fathers.

During these weeks I was able to step onto the campuses of Seminary, college, and high school. Interestingly, all three of them have new or remodeled chapels which were completed after I graduated. The new chapel at Martin Luther College is the most stunning. I’m looking forward to seeing more of that facility next summer at the WELS National Worship Conference. I got to see a Twins game with my brothers at the new Target Field. I got a couple hours out at the farm. I even stopped for a couple hours and walked around at Bush Lake Park, where I worked summers during college. I even ran into my old boss, who happened to be driving through the park.

So I can really say that I was able to make the most of the time. The only thing that could have made it more complete is if I would have been able to do it all without being away from my family. I realize that it probably would not have been possible. It’s probably not a trip that I’ll be able to make again. But if it means being away from Sara and the kids for nearly two weeks, I don’t think I’ll want to.

Here’s a link to a collection of pictures from the trip.

http://gallery.me.com/caauwejw#100688&bgcolor=black&view=grid

 

What I’ve been up to

I’ve been pretty silent here lately, so I thought I’d give you a quick rundown on what has been keeping me busy.

Lent and Easter
Yes, this is perhaps the busiest time of the year. People will make comments to me about how busy I must be, with all the extra services. And this year we even added a service on Good Friday—five unique services from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday. But I’m never exactly sure how to respond. Yes, I’m busy. And it is a struggle to get ready for all the services, especially when they come so quickly, and especially when other issues inevitably come up during holy week. But I really don’t want anyone to think that I would rather be doing anything else.

For all of the busy-ness and the craziness, there is simply no time of year I love more than holy week, and especially the feast of the resurrection. It can be such a temptation to get through Good Friday, and sort of coast through Easter. But, no. The festival service on Easter is the most important of all, the highest festival in the entire year. This year I preached on the historic epistle for Easter Sunday, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8. What a joy to keep the festival, and for it all to culminate in the feast that is the Lord’s Supper, a foretaste of the feast already enjoyed by the saints in heaven.

Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree—
So strong his love—to save us.
See, his blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it; death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us. Hallelujah!

So let us keep the Festival
to which the Lord invites us;
Christ is himself the Lord of all,
The sun that warms and lights us.
Now his grace to us imparts
Eternal sunshine to our hearts.
The night of sin is ended. Hallelujah! (CW 161, st. 3,4)

School Planning & Accreditation
We are busy planning and preparing for the next school, and even beyond. In January we began the process of a school self-study for accreditation. But we’re also gearing up for next year by getting all of our enrollment materials in place. This week we’re distributing fliers throughout the area. We’ve already delivered 2,000 to surrounding homes, and we’ll be getting more out as soon as they’re printed. El Paso is a growing city, with lots of young military families. Accreditation is an important part of serving these families, partly because Ft. Bliss requires school to be accredited in order to be recommended on post, and also because military families move so often that we want to make sure our students records easily transfer to the schools nationwide, even worldwide, where our students end up.

Home
I’m trying my hand at desert gardening this summer. The kids and I have planted tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and melons. We’ll see how things grow here. We definitely have plenty of sun. It should be a fun little experiment. and if we get some food out of it, great.

Last month Sara’s sister Liz arrived in El Paso. She is an Army nurse and will be stationed at William Beaumont Army Medical Center for the next two years. She will be staying with us until she finds a place of her own. We’re not really in any hurry for that to happen, however; it’s nice to have her here. And it will be a real blessing to have family within a few miles instead of a few hundred miles (or thousand).

It’s baseball season again, and I’ve again been enjoying the MLB AtBat app on my phone. As much as I wish I could be in Minnesota to actually see outdoor Major League Baseball in Minnesota this summer, being able to listen to the games on my phone is better than nothing.

Reading
I’m still trying to make my way through my “to read” stack of books. However, I just can’t resist adding more books to the pile. If you want to, you can watch what I’m reading on the web site GoodReads.

I’m looking forward to reading through the Lutheran Confessions in the Book of Concord again this summer. I try to do that every other year. I’ll write more on that in the next couple weeks.

Coming Up
Right now I’m especially gearing up for our Ascension service. I’ve always had a service on Ascension wherever I’ve been, even though they’re not always well attended. This year we’ve invited our area congregations to join us and with our combined efforts hope to have a service fitting for this high festival. It seems that every year I appreciate the significance of Jesus’ ascension even more.

Next week I’ll be heading to Flagstaff Arizona for pastor’s conference. In a few week, we’ll have confirmation here. And just after that school will be out for another year. Wow, it’s gone by fast.

Play Ball

This evening I was finishing up at church and remembered that the Twins were playing game #2 of the season tonight. So I pulled up the At Bat app on the iPhone and within seconds I was listening to the radio broadcast of the game that was in the bottom of the 9th with two outs and the Twins were down 3-5. But it was time to head home, so I grabbed my phone and left. The audio paused for a second or two when the phone switched from wi-fi to 3G, but I was able to listen to the rest of the game as I drove home. I was at the last stop light when Alexi Casilla singled with the bases loaded to win the game.

I haven't been able to listen to Twins games regularly since 2001, my last summer in Minnesota. Since then, I have subscribed to MLB's Gameday Audio so that I could listen to the games online. But that was only useful when I was sitting in front of a computer and not doing anything that required concentration. So, not often.

So hopefully this year I'll actually be able to catch some more games than I have been in the past. That will be nice.