Then He (Jesus) said to them all: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23) Have you ever wondered about the significance of making the sign of the cross? When people are baptized, they are “signed with the cross” on their forehead. The sign of the cross is also made over congregations when the absolution is pronounced over them after their confession. Some people would make the sign of the cross on themselves when they say specific prayers at certain points in the liturgy. To be sure, making the sign of the cross is not merely a liturgical action, or ritualistic. There is a remarkable purpose in making the sign of the cross; which if connected and engaged with, can be of significant help to followers of Jesus to continually deepen their commitment to Him, as His disciple. It has been noted by those who studied the Gospels carefully that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross does indeed have that further implication of Jesus defining the character of discipleship He is setting for His disciples. Across generations, though not heard as often today, this character of discipleship set by Jesus for those who choose to truly follow Him as His disciples is the way of the cross. The way of the cross is the Father chose for Jesus to glorify Him, and to be glorified. Jesus in turn calls His disciples to follow Him also in the way of the cross. Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) By this, Jesus calls His disciples to follow Him and glorify God in and with their lives. Jesus not only defines this as the character of discipleship, He also sets a way for His disciples to deepen their commitment to glorify God in and with their lives—by teaching them to pray it: “our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name” (The Lord’s Prayer). This was Jesus’ way to deepen their desire for God’s name be glorified. Because praying daily was already in their communal way of life, praying the Lord’s Prayer gives them the opportunity to daily renew, and thus deepen their commitment to glorify God in and with their lives through those various aspects of life opened up by The Lord’s Prayer. The early church fathers realized this and recognized how instrumental The Lord’s Prayer is, and they integrated it into the prayers of the church, so that as believers pray this prayer continually and wholeheartedly, they will have the opportunity to renew and deepen their commitment daily to glorify God in and with their life. For the early church fathers, the signing of the cross is the “short-hand form” for making, renewing and deepening this commitment. It became a deeply devotional way for disciples to express their commitment to glorify God in and with their lives. Hence, they use the sign of the cross to express their commitment not only in times of devotion and worship, but also in the face of trials, testing and temptation. Dear friends, as you pray the Lord’s Prayer daily, with or without you yourself making the sign of the cross—may you reply daily to Jesus’ invitation to you: to take up your cross and follow Him to glorify God in and with your life.
Rev. Joseph Goh