Holy Cross Day ⎯ September 14


One of the earliest annual celebrations of the Church, Holy Cross Day traditionally commemorated the discovery of the original cross of Jesus on September 14, 320, in Jerusalem. The cross was found by Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. In conjunction with the dedication of a basilica at the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the festival day was made official by order of Constantine in AD 355. A devout Christian, Helena helped locate and authenticate many sites related to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus throughout biblical lands. Holy Cross Day has remained popular in both Eastern and Western Christianity. Many Lutheran parishes have chosen to use “Holy Cross” as the name of their congregation.

Treasury of Daily Prayer
September 14–Holy Cross Day

The cross is the sign of God’s goodness and favor toward you. It is the symbol of salvation worked out for you. It is the symbol of your freedom from all sin, hell, death, and every evil. It was to the cross that the Lamb of God was led without complaint and where He was slaughtered.

When Christians make the sign of the holy cross, it is in remembrance of its wonderful purpose and do not think of its shame. When a Christian makes the sign of the cross, he lets the waters of his Baptism quench all the anger, the bitterness, and all the other passions which plague the sinful flesh.

Donatello crucifix

Donatello crucifix

The sign of the cross belongs to the Christian, it is a gift given to each of us by Jesus at our Baptism. “Receive the sign of the cross to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” The sign of the cross marks you as one who has been bought with a price. The sign of the cross marks you as one truly free from the devil. The sign of the cross reminds you of the price paid to redeem you, the very life of the true Son of God.

My dear friends in Christ, please do not hear me making a new demand that you *must* make the sign of the cross in your devotions and worship. While we certainly have the freedom of Christians to do so, it is the heart marked by the sign of Jesus cross which is more important than anything you do with your fingers. In your heart, with much faith, recall the sacrifice of Christ and cling to Him. Engrave His cross upon your mind and embrace the salvation of your soul. For the cross held up the Christ for the salvation of the world. Behold your Lord ˜ the one who drives away all error and unveils the Truth, He who has brought Heaven to earth, He who has made dead sinners into lively children. Because of Christ, the demons are no longer terrifying or frightful; rather they are objects of contempt. Death now holds no fear, it is merely a sleep. All that wars against us has been cast to the ground and trod upon.

Let us with a clear voice shout aloud to the world that the cross is our glory. It is the sum and symbol of all our blessings, our confidence, and our crown.

You are part of the body of Christ by virtue of your washing. So you must shoulder your cross. Now your cross is not the cross of Christ. Only He could bear your sins and the sins of all people. Your cross is different; it is as individual as you are. Not only do we bear the sign of the cross to mark us as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, we also are called to be cross-bearers. Luther said, “You must be willing to lose your life for Christ; not just to die but be willing to bear every evil, trouble, danger, and temptation where your peace and life will be disturbed.”

Remember as you bear your cross, that in Christ it is a joyful thing. He has redeemed you and calls you His own. Just as it is a privilege, may be difficult, to be called Christian. You do not choose your cross. Your Lord will give it to you. Know that as you bear your cross, that it will at times seem very heavy.

It will be tempting to look at how other people fare and to murmur about how light and easy their cross seems to be. It is hard enough to bear one’s own burden without wondering why the other guy bears something different and seems to have it easier. No, do not fix your eyes on what others have or don’t have. Rather, fix your eyes on Jesus. He is your strength and your tower.

As you bear your cross as one of Christ’s Christians, know that He stands in our midst with His gifts of refreshment and solace. Do your sins dirty you and cause you to feel filthy? Remember the holy waters of Baptism in which you were washed clean of all filth and evil. Come and confess and receive the words that Christ has given His Church to speak. Are you weak? Does your strength fail? Christ places food into your hand and mouth. He strengthens you with heavenly Bread and drink. He gives His true body and blood in this bread and wine to strengthen you in body and soul. In all your trials, He stands beside you with His Word ˜ that life-giving, refreshing, water of Life to comfort you, aid you, and fill you with hope for this life and the life to come.

From a sermon
15th Sunday after Pentecost/A
Matthew 16:21-26

Other resources for Holy Cross:

Sermon on John 12:20-33

How Lutherans Worship – 2: Excursus: Making the Sign of the Cross

What are Ember Days?

How Lutherans Worship – 2: Making the Sign of the Cross


sign of the cross finger positionIn the previous part I said: “it is appropriate that all those who are baptized may join in making the sign of the cross as a remembrance of their baptism.” There has been some question about this. In response let me begin by bringing forward for your consideration the words of Dr. Timothy Maschke from his excellent guide on worship Gathered Guests. Dr. Maschke:

[Making] the sign of the cross is …a physical action that draws the whole self into the act of worship. Some people may consider this is a “Catholic” practice, and in the past this connotation caused many Lutherans to abandon its use. Yet Luther suggested the sign of the cross as a daily practice, directing in his Small Catechism that the head of the household should teach the family the Morning and Evening Prayers in this way:

In the morning, when you get up,make the sign of the cross and say:

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The sign of the cross is made by placing the thumb and the first two fingers of the right hand together as a reminder of the Trinity. Touch your head at the naming of the Father, then bring your hand to the middle of your chest (over your heart) at the naming of the Son. At the naming of the Holy Spirit touch your right shoulder and then your left shoulder.

But let us be clear, making the sign of the cross, or not making the sign of the cross, is part of our Christian liberty. It should never be made a criterion for being viewed as more or less confessional, more or less liturgical, or more or less Lutheran. While the sign of the holy cross is the property of each and every baptized child of God, it is up to the individual to determine when and how he or she will use it.

In the church’s worship it is a laudable custom to cross ourselves at the beginning and end of all services and at the following places in the Service or in the Order of the Holy Communion Service: During the opening words, “In the name etc.”; at the end of the Absolution; at the beginning of the Introit; at the end of the Gloria in Excelsis; when the Gospel is announced (At this point the sign is made with the hand closed, using the tip of the thumb, upon the forehead, lips, and breast.); at the end of the creed; during the Sanctus at the words, “Blessed is He”; after the consecration at “The peace of the Lord”; when we receive the holy body and precious blood of Christ; when the minister says, “Depart in peace”; and at the end of the Benediction Paul H. D. Lang, Ceremony and Celebration, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 1965, p. 71 ff.. Throughout this series of notes on the liturgy I will indicate some of the appropriate places to make the sign of the cross as token of our salvation.

Receive the sign of the holy cross, both upon the + forehead and upon the + heart, in token that you have been redeemed by Christ the crucified.

From the rite of Holy Baptism

The sign of the cross is a way of declaring your salvation. Jesus has made his cross to be yours, so that you do not have to suffer for your sin. Again, Lang: “We were signed with it when we were baptized. It is the sign by which the church blesses people and things. By it we become part of the wonderful history of our faith and companions in the company of the saints. It is right that we should make the sign of the cross frequently and to glory in it, saying with St. Paul, ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Gal. 6:14).”

The Christian also finds comfort in making the sign of the cross in the time of tragedy, in the face of danger, or in the presence of heresy and evil. Within the liturgy itself, this use of making the sign of the cross is why it is included in the Lord’s Prayer at the speaking of the words, “And lead us not into temptation, but + deliver us from evil.”

Again, to make the sign of the cross is a matter of Christian freedom. You may or may not feel comfortable doing it yourself, or you may not do it as often as your neighbor. That’s okay. But when the sign of the cross is made, whether by pastor or people, let this be the proclamation: Christ has died for your sins upon the cross; in Baptism he shares that cross with you; because you share in his cross you are a child of God and are precious in his sight.

Scriptural References:
Matthew 28:18b-19
Mark 8:34-38
Mark 16:16
Romans 6:3-4
Galatians 2:20
1 Peter 3:21

Next: The Preparation—Confession and Absolution

Other good posts on making the sign of the cross:

Todd Peperkorn at Lutheran Logomaniac

When we make the sign of the cross, what we are doing is A) remembering our Baptism; B) Remembering Jesus’ death for our sins; C) Confessing to the world that I am not ashamed to be known as a disciple of Jesus; and D) Holding up the cross of Christ as the central core of my identity. [more…]

Luther on making the sign of the cross at Lutheran Theology Web Site

In the morning, when you rise, you shall make the sign of the holy cross, and you shall say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then, kneeling or standing, you shall say the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall make the sign of the holy cross, and you shall say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then, kneeling or standing, you shall say the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. [more…]

Paul H. D. Lang from Ceremonies and Celebrations at Lex Orandi

Crossing oneself was practiced by Christians from the earliest centuries and may go back to apostolic times. We know that is was already a common ceremony used daily in A.D. 200, for Tertullian writes: “In all undertakings — when we enter a place or leave it; before we dress; before we bathe; when we take our meals; when we light the lamps in the evening; before we retire at night; when we sit down to read; before each task — we trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads.” St. Augustine (A.D. 431) speaks of this custom many times in his sermons and letters. [more…]

The Sign of the Cross: Hierarchical or Egalitarian? by Paul Bosch at Lift Up Your Hearts (ELLiC)

But remember: It’s heavy stuff. That personal signing of yourself with the cross: It’s nothing you want to do lightly. You’re marking your very self –your body, your psyche– with the cross of Christ’s suffering. You’re saying, by this gesture: “I take the sufferings and death of Christ upon myself.” That’s something I’m not sure I want to do, at least not without some heavy thought, some heavy soul-searching. You won’t find me, for one, “signing” myself very often.

Pastor Lassman’s YouTube instruction on Making the Sign of Cross

Previous post: How Lutheran Worship -1 Introduction

Next: How Lutherans Worship–3: Confession and Absolution