Many New Yorkers have a tendency (or at least a temptation) to be texting, talking, or emailing on our cell phones as we walk down the street. One such New Yorker held his phone to his ear as he passed by my church. When he came near me, he slowed his pace just long enough to give me a blessing. He drew a cross through the air with his cell phone and mouthed the words, “God bless you,” before continuing his conversation and continuing on his way. It was one of the more hilarious moments in my ministry. The blessing this man offered resembled what a priest does when blessing a congregation during worship, sans the cell phone. The corresponding movement from congregation members is crossing oneself - using the fingers of your right hand to touch your forehead, chest (or upper abdomen), left shoulder, right shoulder, and (optional) chest again. I’ve had this sort of “cross exchange” with people who wave at me from the other side of the street, or bus drivers who honk to get my attention. I bless them from a distance, and they cross themselves in response. One driver even brought his bus to a complete stop in front of me, opened his door for a blessing, and then drove away after receiving one.
So what’s all this crossing about?
The Christian faith tells us the cross is a demonstration of God’s sacrificial love. It’s a means of forgiveness, an instrument of reconciliation between us and God. It’s a paradox of death conquering death, a subversion of worldly power, and an embodiment of a new energy let loose in the world.
I admit that when I cross myself, I often go through the motions without thinking about any of these things. But when I bring intention to the movement, I consciously call on the love of Jesus. I claim the power of the cross to make me a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) because “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Galat