I went Michael Goldsmith’s ordination last night. It was a wonderful affair. We were worshipping at St. Mary’s in Jasper, AL—a beautiful church with a recently-painted nave in bright green, yellow, and crimson. As one participant noted, it was relaxed. Everyone was smiling. It was a family affair. Still, I saw something there that I hadn’t seen in a while—a liturgical gesture that, while perfectly appropriate, seems to have fallen out of favor.
During the Eucharistic prayer, as we sang the Sanctus (“Holy, holy, holy…”), when we got to the part about “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” several people made the sign of the cross. I used to do that back when I first started attending the Episcopal Church. It’s what other people around me were doing, so I did it, too. But, as I’ve thought more about that text, I read it in a way that suggests self-crossing doesn’t fit there.
Blessed is who? In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “You will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Who is Jesus talking about? And what does it mean to say that? Surely it’s not just a magic sentence—words that when uttered cause Jesus to appear. We’ve tried that every Sunday for 2000 years.
That sentence shows up in Psalm 118—a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance. It seems that the person who needed salvation has recognized that God has sent someone to rescue him, and so the prayer becomes our own hope for salvation: “God, send us the blessed on to save us.” That means I think that Jesus is asking us to recognize that he is the blessed one who comes in God’s name. When we recognize that—when we attribute that Psalmic identity to Jesus—we are able to see him for who he is—our savior.
So why do we cross ourselves? Who is coming in the name of the Lord? Is it us? Is it Jesus? Is it the person saying the Eucharistic prayer who does so in the place of Jesus himself? Well, maybe if that’s your approach to the Eucharist, but it’s not mine. Sometimes we render that line as “blessed is the one who comes” as if to gender-neutralize the statement. And, if we believe that it is all of us who come in God’s name, then it’s right to cross ourselves at that point, and I think we should use a genderless pronoun in that place. But I still don’t think we’re talking about us. It’s Jesus who comes in the name of the Lord.
We recognize that each time we say or sing the Sanctus together. God is holy, holy, holy, and his Son Jesus, the blessed-one, has come in his name. We are looking for him, straining to see him through the centuries, making him visible in bread and wine become body and blood. How is that possible? By seeing him for who he really is and naming him as savior.