by Greg Alms
I officiated at a funeral recently. We sang “A Mighty Fortress,” and we got to that line in the hymn “We tremble, not unmoved we stand.” A strange thing happened. Even as I sang it, I noticed I was trembling a bit. Filled with longing and sadness for the family, I was trembling even as I proclaimed that I was unmoved and trembling not.
That line is one of my favorites in Luther’s great hymn. I always get a lump in my throat as I sing it. I usually stand a bit taller and thrust out my chest just a bit in defiance of enemies, spiritual and otherwise. But often it is a curious moment. For that time at the funeral is commonplace. I do a lot of trembling. I am frightened often. I wish to run from pain, sadness or conflict, hide from the duties God pushes upon me. Yet in the singing of the hymn I am filled with hope and even a bit of pride as if I weren’t scared, as if I am brave and fearless. The moment is revealing in its contradictions. The quivering Christian in boastful voice shouting out a taunt he cannot fulfill.
Yet in another more important way, the words are true. They are a shout of faith. In and through the words I claim something that is not my own. As I sing I grab hold of Christ’s bravery, His solitary stand against sin taken on the cross, His victory on Easter. And God grants it to me.
That peculiar mix of a Christian’s awareness of his own weakness at the very moment of appropriating its opposite from our Savior happens often. We receive forgiveness and are clean and pure even while we feel our sins. We say that one who believes in Christ will never die even as our flesh wastes away and death is indisputably near. We thank God for giving us our reason and all our senses and all our members even as amputees or blind or hard of hearing. The Christian who does not have enough to eat confesses that God gives meat in due season.
Such is life under the cross. It is all faith, all the time. We have nothing but claim all things in Christ. Bereft of goods, fame or spouse, the Kingdom ours remaineth.