He it is Who has destroyed death and freely graced us all with incorruption through the promise of the resurrection, having raised His own body as its first-fruits, and displayed it by the sign of the cross as the monument to His victory over death and its corruption.
St. Athanasius – On the Incarnation
When I first became Catholic, it took some time for me to feel totally comfortable making the sign of the cross. Growing up with no ritualistic actions from my own tradition I had no real connection to using my body as part of prayer. Every time I would make the sign, I would be completely self-conscious: Did anyone see me? Did I do it right? Did I look like an idiot just now?
Of course, over time I got used to it, and now I can’t imagine a day going by without making this important gesture – it is truly the sign of our salvation.
A Methodist scholar on the Apostle Paul suggested Friday at Samford University that Protestants try using the sign of the cross as a reminder of the importance of Jesus’ sacrifice for mankind’s salvation.
“I think we have lost that very heart of the Gospel,” said Michael J. Gorman, a visiting New Testament scholar at Duke Divinity School. “What if Baptists made the sign of the cross?”
The prayer and physical gesture focus on Jesus’ sacrifice and death on the cross, he said.
“It’s a perpetual reminder our lives are shaped by the cross,” said Gorman, dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and author of numerous books on Paul.
Many Protestants prefer to focus on the Resurrection, he said. But the Apostle Paul stressed the importance of the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus as a sacrifice for mankind, Gorman said.
“It’s the crucified Jesus who was raised by God,” he said.
I have read Gorman’s book on Paul called Apostle of the Crucified Lord and it is excellent. In fact, when I was reading it I figured Gorman was a Catholic (he teaches at a Catholic seminary). But as the story notes, he understands that the crucifixion is at the heart of Paul’s preaching, and making the sign of the cross is a small reminder of the events of Good Friday.
Unfortunately, it will take a lot of cultural changes for most Protestants to begin this practice, but I for one hope Gorman’s suggestion takes root with many Protestants.