Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Lord Signs without Ceasing

There are exceptionally strong encouragements directed at the Christian laity, in regards to that laudable behavior which traces out the  "sign of the cross."   Not laws, mind you, but encouragements.  Oh, I know.  Those spiritual Jews and Greeks among some collections of Lutherans may see the "sign of the cross" as something of a stumbling block, or as foolishness; somehow seeing lip-work as enough for the worshiping creature, or perceiving any action beyond the moving of the mouth, as a mark of rank Romanism.   But there are catechetical, historical and indeed Divine reasons for having the honoring ... and believing ... heart (cf. Mt 15:8; Mk 7:6)  pump some measure of hemoglobin into your upper extremities, and thus move the fingers.

Why, even the General Rubrics of  The Lutheran Hymnal (CPH, 1941; p. 4), that product of a "conservatively" united Syndodical Conference, openly advocated its use.  Blessed Martin Luther championed its use  in the course of the Office prayers of the Morning and Evening hours, inside Confessional documents.  This, before they were eventually air-brushed away to protect its youth,  by certain offended "conservative" Lutherans once belonging to the 1941 Conference.

The blessed Reformer also more informally encouraged little Lutherans to its use, in all times of danger and emotional distress; not as a piece of medieval superstition or rabbit's foot, but  instead as a reminder, I think, of their Baptism, which blessing grants entrance to the Kingdom of the Savior.  There in the Kingdom's arms, safety and Peace truly prevail, and the evil Foe has "no power over us" whatsoever.   Dear little children, inside a hostile and overbearing and perverse world, need to know and remember that they are empowered by the cross and that the ultimate victory is thus theirs, through such means.  Since St. John gently addresses all Christians as little children, the reminder is accordingly useful to all sheep of the Good Shepherd's pasture.  Gestures, after all,  can help and discipline the body, so as to remind the mind and soul.  It is why we lovingly teach our children to fold their hands.   Look at all the little crosses, the tiny fingers make.  So should we stop folding our hands, then, o ye "conservatives" of little logic?  

There is also that witnessing example recorded by Lactantius, about 320 A+D.   The emperor Diocletian (ruled 284-305) is responsible for the Great Persecution, through the issuance of a series of proclamations which re-ignited an intense harassment of the Church after an abeyance of some forty years.  For Diocletian, this was to be  a death-match struggle to the end; the frustrated "conservative" emperor sought no less than the total extirpation of Christ and His people from the lands of the Romans, through means of four imperial edicts.  All Christian holy books and edifices for worship were to be destroyed; and those clergy of the eastern Empire, who refused to sacrifice to the gods, were subject to arrest.  What happened next was entirely up to the local jailers and the mobs.   Eventually and inevitably, in 304, the heel (and dungeon) of the state was extended to all Christians, of whatever stripe or vocation.   So Lactantius recalls that Diocletian was sacrificing to his gods, one fine day, "and some attendants of his, who were Christians, stood by and they put the immortal sign on their foreheads.  At this, the demons were chased away, and the holy rites were interrupted."    I'm not sure quite what to make of this, except that in my own anecdotal experience, the demons do seem to fly away at the sign of  the cross, when used while thanking God for His mercy, at a public restaurant.  See, I have never been arrested and clapped into irons by a demon for so quiet, yet so powerful, an action.

At least, not yet.

Now  in truth, I must warn of the "danger" of being accosted by endearingly sweet, elderly Roman Catholic ladies on occasion, who spy and then express tears of joy and admiration that there are still faithful Catholics around.  This has happened.  But this gives the cheeky the grand opportunity to say "Thank you, my dears.  Yes, yes,  I've been discovered! I am indeed of the Lutheran variety, still  preaching Christ Crucified. "

Diocletian's "holy rites" may not be interrupted, by this riposte, but the restaurant conversation sometimes can be.   Or not.  Usually the exchanges which follow are rather heart warming, let me tell you, and not because I'm being put to the staves like stalwart Robert Barnes.

Finally, the last and finest piece of evidence supporting the use of the sign of the cross, is our dear Lord Christ Himself.  Now I suppose He who freed the leper of his dermatologic deficiencies, could easily have banished completely and forever His nail-puncture and spear-thrust wounds.  But He didn't .  Instead, He appears to have reveled in them; in fact, He asked His stunned disciples to touch and thrust their hands in them (Lk 24:39; Jn 20: 27).

If "conservative" Christian folk are made aghast by the ancient sign of the cross, within the vale of this transient earth, then consider the angst emerging when they  are confronted with a Sign of the Cross, one which never ends, in the new heaven and earth to come.

Your (unworthy) servant,
Herr Doktor 

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