The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
The last stanza of Robert Frost’s poem holds us balanced between reflection and the unnamed promises we must keep.
In Scripture, the faithfulness of God is a transcendent theme from Genesis to Revelation. God is faithful to his promises. He promised that one day all the families on earth would be blessed through Abraham’s faith. He promised David that the kingly rule of one of his descendants would be forever. He promised Isaiah a suffering servant would become a sin offering for humanity. He promised little Bethlehem that one day a great ruler would come from her.
In Communion we come to a table built on promises made and kept. Kept at a cost so high, rooted in a love so deep that we cannot begin to understand them. In Gethsemane, Jesus, in effect, prayed, I do not want to do this, but I will not break the promises you have made. “No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
But there is more happening in the Lord’s Supper than God’s keeping his word to us. Communion also involves promises we make to God. The cross is both the great gift of love God pours out for us, and the great call God makes for us to take it up and follow Jesus. Communion is a celebration of God’s keeping promises, as we, the people of God, reaffirm promises to him.
In AD 112, Roman governor Pliny the Younger wrote to Emperor Trajan about trouble he was facing with an odd religious cult. He had arrested and tortured two of their women to find out what evil things were transpiring at their secret meetings. To his surprise, Pliny says this group’s practice was only “to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath.” He acknowledged they shared a meal, but said it was just ordinary food (Christians were rumored to eat human flesh at their meetings).
We can understand his description of meeting weekly and singing praises to Christ. But what does Pliny mean by saying that each week the Christians took an oath? The answer may be hinted at in the actual Latin wording of the letter: dicere secum invicem seque sacramento. The word oath in Latin is sacramentum. The Communion meal was a sacramentum, an oath we make to God and to one another.
I could say more, but, like you, I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.
Tom Lawson is a professor at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.