Friday, March 13, 2009

Sign of the Cross

From the baptismal liturgy:
Receive the sign of the holy cross,
both upon your forehead
and upon your breast,
to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.

Lily goes about her day, playing dress-up and drawing pictures and eating her sandwich. The sign of the cross is there, on her forehead, though not visible to the eye. I saw her pastor put it there on the day of her baptism. It's there.

Frederick likewise goes about his day, playing cars and helping Mommy with his baby sister. The sign of the holy cross is on his forehead too.

When you leave your dad's hospital room, and give him a good-night kiss on the forehead, there too is the sign of the holy cross on his forehead. It's been there a good deal longer than has Lily's or Fredo's. But that's okay -- it's meant to be there for all eternity. It doesn't wear off.

The angels see the cross on my forehead. The demons see it too. But we humans don't. At least, not with our eyeballs. We see it only by faith. (Well, except on Ash Wednesday.)

That's why we cross ourselves.
As a way to "see" it.

When a person goes to confession, the pastor says, "I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" as he traces that cross (received first in baptism) upon the person's forehead once again.

When we cross ourselves at the beginning of the Service ("In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit") it's because we have been baptized and are gathered in the name of the God to whom we are all joined. The sign of the cross is the sign that we have been baptized into His death. And when we cross ourselves at the end of the Creed ("the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting") it's because, if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, we shall also surely be united in the likeness of His resurrection.

When we cross ourselves at the end of the Lord's Prayer ("deliver us from evil") it's because the cross is what delivers us from evil, and our baptism is what assures that deliverance for us.

Sometimes instead of the "regular" sign of the cross, I need to trace the little cross on my forehead and the little cross over my heart. It helps me remember that this business of signing myself is about baptism -- that it is the absolution applied to this mortal flesh -- and that God made these marks on me when He claimed me, even if I was too little to remember it. When I'm praying the psalms, the sign of the cross helps teach me that these prayers are what I can say because I am united to Christ.

It's a wonder, sometimes, to look around the nave and "see" the cross on the foreheads of the saints gathered there. Some of us touch that cross as we "cross ourselves" and some of us don't. But the mark that shows that we have been claimed by King of the Universe, claimed as His sons, is there for all the angelic realm to see. If only I could remember what it means as easily as they can see it.

1 comment:

  1. It's like saying your name without speaking.