Monday, October 29, 2007

Can Lutherans "Cross" Themselves?

Ironically, I learned to "cross" myself as a Lutheran from a converted Jew. Prior to my time at seminary this practice was foreign to me, as it is undoubtedly still to many Lutherans. Now I "cross" myself regularly, and my people see it weekly as I begin my sermon invoking the name of the Trinity.

However, to "cross" oneself is to many Lutherans a decidedly "Catholic" custom. And it is true that at weddings and funerals one can usually identify the visiting Catholics by observing the ones crossing themselves - and those who stop praying the Lord's Prayer before the final doxology :)

But "crossing" oneself is a practice that was encouraged by Luther in his Small Catechism as part of the regular devotional life of the Christian. For Lutherans familiar with the Rite of Baptism, this action should have a ring of familiarity, as the first thing a pastor does is to trace the sign of the holy cross upon the head and heart of the child even before he is baptized. Thus, to "cross" ourselves as Lutherans is to immediately recall our baptisms and the reality of our status as redeemed and regenerated children of God in Christ.

It is also the confession of the Creed by the actions of our body. We confess with our lips and our hands the truth of God as three-in-one, a truth that is central to our Faith as Christians, and distinguishes us from the many popular non-Christian cults in our country, such as the familiar Jehovah's Witnesses with their Arian beliefs. Crossing ourselves is one of many physical disciplines that brings our whole being into an act of worship, such as bowing, kneeling, and other gestures of faith.

Of course, any action can become a victim of meaningless rote, and crossing oneself is not exempt. Still, if the faith on our lips and in our heart is centered in Christ alone, crossing ourselves is always appropriate and helpful. For what better reminder of our salvation and life than to have the cross itself traced upon our heart each day?


Carl Vehse said...

Or, May Lutherans "Cross" Themselves?

Rev. Don Engebretson said...

Thank you for the grammatical correction. Unless they are physically impaired from using their arms and hands, they 'can' cross themselves. But 'may' they? Yes, they may cross themselves, as Luther instructs.