I am combining the last two sacraments because I have little to say about either of them. I feel they are the weakest of the sacraments, and expose sacramental theology for what it is: a purely human endeavor that is devoid of any efficacy for good in the world or the church.
First, there is ordination, which might also be called Holy Orders. The key part of this sacrament is the employment of god’s holy representatives to do his sacramental work. In this, I would have to say that god’s track-record for hiring is as bad as the Post Office. There is no magic formula for finding the right person for the job. After all the applications, interviews, background checks, and drug tests, companies, both great and small, still end up with people who are more suited for prison than gainful employment. One would expect god to be able to do a little better.
Without recounting the horrors of priestly child abuse, the Catholic church has done more to prove the impotence of god than any atheist. It is as if god couldn’t see it coming. There is something hopelessly wrong with the sacrament of ordination. But lest Protestants start getting smug, it is no better on our side of the fence. Our elders and deacons are just as prone to theft as the leaders of Enron. Our preachers are just as likely to wake up next to someone else’s wife as their own. Our children are no safer with our youth ministers than are little boys with Catholic priests.
How many preachers has your church been through? How many were lost to scandal or incompetence, or both. It is all the proof you need that the omniscient god of the universe is no better at hiring than anyone else. And that’s pretty bad.
As for extreme unction, or last rites. I have even less to say. The graveyards are full of devout believers who received the faithful, fervent prayers of righteous men and women who, nonetheless, had no power to change the outcome of the inevitable conclusion of all flesh. It seems the last rights are just a way of helping the dying get over their fear of the oncoming death to which the are about to succumb. Again, there is neither magic or efficacy in this sacrament to change the outcome or stem the tide of grieving for the survivors. The last rites is the story we tell ourselves to convince ourselves and our loved ones that we are really not going to die, but go on living forever in another, better universe than the one that just unceremoniously spat us out.
Stay tuned for my final words on sacraments in my next post.