Trembling at the Altar of God

By Graham Glover

Last Sunday, I had the privilege to serve as the celebrant during the Divine Service at our parish in Hawaii. I am always grateful to my civilian peers when they afford me the opportunity to assist them during worship. Words cannot express how efficacious their gesture is for my faith and affirming it is for my vocation. One day I will shed the Army uniform, but Lord willing, I will always wear the collar.

It had been several months since I assisted with worship at a Lutheran church. Even though I have been presiding at our Lord’s Altar for almost 12 years, I found myself trembling when I began chanting the Preface at the beginning of the Service of the Sacrament. I’m pretty sure my voice sounded ok, but my hands were noticeably shaking. I didn’t feel nervous, but I obviously was. We were using Setting 1 out of the Lutheran Service Book, a service I have done more than any other, but I couldn’t keep my hands still. Things became a little problematic during the Words of Institution when my hands were shaking so badly that I could barely lift up the host and chalice. When the acolyte and elders came forward to commune, I literally struggled to grip the elements as I served them the Body and Blood of our Lord. I felt like a newly ordained clergyman presiding at the altar for the first time. Although my hands appeared to stabilize throughout the distribution, for reasons I cannot explain, I remained nervous for the rest of the service.


I’d like to think that last Sunday was an aberration, and that the next time I preside I won’t be overcome by nervousness. I’d also like to think that I will always be nervous when presiding at the Altar of our Lord. While I want to look confident and comfortable, lest the parishioners focus too much on my shaking hands – instead of preparing their hearts and souls to receive the greatest gift this side of eternity, I also want to look like one in fear of what I am doing. Not afraid, as though I shouldn’t be there. Rather, fearful of holding in my hands the very Body and Blood of our Savior. Fearful that I am literally in the presence of Christ. Fearful that this is one of (if not THE) peak of the Divine Service, as I come to grips once again with the stark reality that God has called me – a heinous sinner – to be His means of the means of grace. This should make anyone tremble. It should make anyone’s hands shake. It clearly did for me last week.

The Altar of God is unlike any other place. On it, the Lord of Life is made physically and visibly present for us to consume, that our sins might be forgiven, and that we might become one with Him. How we act at this altar – as pastor and parishioner – speaks volumes about what we believe is happening. I don’t want my hands to shake, but how could they not? How could anyone not tremble when approaching this most sacred place?

So tremble with me. Come on bended knee, with shaking hands extended to receive Jesus. And as we come trembling to His altar, may His grace give us the only peace that can truly comfort us. May His Body and Blood take away our fears and soothe our nervous hearts. May His promise of forgiveness strengthen our faith, giving us assurance and strength, now and forevermore.