There is widespread confusion among modern Americans about what a sacrament is. Even among Reformed churches, serious disagreements divide us at this table, which is the one place where we should be united. Our word “sacrament” comes from the Latin sacramentum. Jesus and his disciples never used the word sacramentum. They spoke in Aramaic, and the Apostles wrote their books and letters in Greek. However, when the gospel of Christ conquered the Roman Empire, the mightiest empire of man, the church fathers who spoke Latin chose sacramentum to translate the Greek. Some have argued that this was a mistake and that we should avoid all references to sacraments because it’s Roman Catholic. Our Baptist brothers choose to refer to the Supper as an Ordinance. But when we understand what sacramentum meant in the ancient world, we gain a better understanding of what we are doing around this Table.
A sacramentum was originally a goat or sheep you would give to someone in court. It was a sacred deposit in a lawsuit. If you won the lawsuit, you would get your goat back, but the loser would have to give his goat to the priests. Hence, the goat-deposit was used in “sacral”, or holy, functions in the temples. Later a sacramentum became the oath a Roman soldier would swear. Swearing this oath of loyalty to Rome also involved a curse upon the soldier if he did not remain loyal to Rome. So, in Rome, a sacramentum finally referred to an obligation which must absolutely be kept, even at the cost of your own life. We are also making a solemn and sacrificial promise at this table. We are remembering the Lord who laid down his life to keep his covenant promises to his people. We can do no less. Remaining loyal to the Lord Jesus Christ is the most important obligation you have. Forget your homework, your job, your roast in the oven. Remember your covenant Lord who was born that you might be born again. Remember, and vow obedience again, to the Savior who died that you might live again.