Let’s face it, the “-ment” in the word is really more significant than the sacred.
Not in terms of important importance, of course. God, the issuer of all things sacred, has the upper hand, importance-wise.
But in terms of understanding sacraments, it’s the -ment that really should get our attention.
-ment means: (1) the action or process of doing something; (2) the product or result of an action; or (3) the state or condition caused by an action.
Get it? -ment always refers to an action. A thing done.
A sacrament is getting the sacred done.
Getting it done.
I think that’s so cool.
So let’s just ask ourselves one little, tiny question: When we participate in a sacrament in church, do we experience anything getting done?
And if not, just why not?
To begin with, I’ve always felt that we humans have always gotten the concept of marriage, well, backwards. Christian humans, that it. And since I’m focusing on the matter of sacraments at the moment, it’s Christians that I’ll be poking.
The Bible says, What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. (Matthew 10:9)
So we twist it around and assume that anytime a person gets married, God hath joined these people together.
Did he? Is God truly responsible for all these matings that occur? Is he the true designer of the marriages between lonely Muslim men and their kidnapped victims? (If so, then we really shouldn’t be getting involved with their rescue, should we?)
What if we put the emphasis on God in this matter, and not on ourselves, and restate the phrase as Those who God has joined together. Yes, those guys.
Getting beloveds together so that love can be created in the universe. Then, and only then, since God was behind these very specific marriages, no one should mess with them!
Somehow we’ve made it that if you find yourself in a marriage and you need to leave it, you’re the one who is doing the asundering.
The sentence actually has two parts: in the first part we have a couple; in the second, we have a stray man.
And we know what kind of trouble a stray man can create.
Especially to a marriage.
Yes, I know I’m rambling.
Back to sacraments.
What I’m trying to assert here is that it is God who marries the couple. If and when that marriage takes place is completely up to God.
The church ceremony only puts its official stamp on it.
The church doesn’t marry anybody.
The sacrament of marriage happens between the couple and God.
As in, What therefore God hath joined together.
And, yes, I can see a priest off in the background waving his hand and spitting, but, but.
I’m God who joins. Or, I am the one who speaks for God who joins.
And I say, really?
Is that what we need? A priest to get the sacred things in life done?
Is that what the Bible teaches us?
My hero, John the Baptist, doesn’t really come off as a priest.
Instead of gaudy, elaborate robes, he wore animal skins.
And the only dish he could provide at a post-Baptismal feast is a casserole of roasted bees with nettles.
I doubt if he would even give us salt.
John, the mad mystic (with mad referring to his being carried away by enthusiasm – and anger), was so graced by the Holy Spirit that it was he who got the sacred done to God himself!
How sacred is a getting-the-sacred-done, or sacred-ment, when the Incarnation of Sacred is being made sacred?
Talk about madness.
So where was the fancy building?
The stone font?
The liturgy with words so set in place that the congregation can utter their responses by rote?
Ah, there were none of those things.
And I’ve realized, after searching for this for decades, that it was the dove who anointed Jesus. An oil-less anointing admittedly.
But it was an expression of divine choosing, or, in this case, singling out.
The neon arrow pointing, with the caption: This is my boy!
So here is one very clear demonstration of an act of the sacred getting done.
Where’s the other?
You guessed it, the Last Supper.
Again, no fancy building.
No ornate finery.
Just a table.
Some dirty feet.
The priest is Jesus.
The altar was the table at which he sat.
And who did he serve? Who did he administer communion to?
The key to the door of his own death.
And Jesus knew this.
He knew how he was sitting at a table with ordinary, sinful men, all of whom would fail him in the next days.
He didn’t take a measure of them; he didn’t make up a list of their past actions.
Peter, were you married to other women before your current wife?
Andrew, did you ever mess around with other boys when you were young?
James, have you ever stolen anything?
Philip, didn’t you bad-mouth your mother-in-law and get her in trouble with your wife?
Oh, and Judas. . . .
Jesus never screened these men to make sure they passed his “purity” test in order to receive communion.
The most precious communion of all time.
And who received it?
Jesus came to save sinners, and that’s who he administers HIS sacrament to.
Both John and Jesus use the sacraments in which they are involved as a means of reconciling God with man. John and God show people who Jesus is.
Jesus cleans the feet of the man who will betray him.
And he personally blesses his enemy with the sacredness of God.
Both acts were infused, were directed, by the Holy Spirit.
God was there, both times, getting the sacred done.
Isn’t this what the sacraments should be to us today?
Being there. Watching the Holy Spirit anoint. Witnessing God’s bustling about his business.
Instead we scrutinize the recipients. There’s a have-and-have-nots list. Just like with Santa Clause.
Except that the Holy Trinity isn’t Santa Clause.
God isn’t out to distribute rewards for goodness.
He’s here to lift us out of our suffering. He’s here to save us from giving up on life.
He’s here to love us as we are.
And his sacraments are a message of that love.
And only that.
The message that God loves us.
Each and every one.