Now Thank We All Our God
Thanksgiving. If I’m honest, I have to work a little harder to cultivate a thankful attitude these days. We live in a time of physical and social isolation when families are kept apart, holiday traditions are set aside, and even on the best of days we see the world from behind a mask. And then we read the Apostle Paul’s words to the Thessalonians: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” All circumstances…even the circumstances we find ourselves in today?
When I was young, we always sang the old German hymn, Now Thank We All Our God at every Thanksgiving Eve worship service. But few of us know the circumstances in which it was written. The text was written by Martin Rinkhart, a Lutheran pastor in the town of Eilenburg, Germany. Eilenburg was repeatedly overrun by the warring armies during the Thirty Years’ War, resulting in the town being overcrowded with refugees. To make matters worse, a plague broke out. Though Rinkhart could barely provide for his own family, he opened his home as a refuge for the victims. With the plague at its worst, Rinkart was the only surviving pastor in Eilenburg. He conducted as many as 50 funerals a day, burying 4,480 victims in 1637 alone, among them his beloved wife. That same year he penned the words to a hymn he called, Nun Danket alle Gott:
Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us,
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed
And free us from all harm in this world and the next
Ever joyful hearts and blessed peace. From a worldly perspective, Rinkhart had every reason not to be thankful. His town was ravaged by war and an epidemic. His family had been devastated by the loss of his wife. But like the Apostle Paul, he maintained his confidence in the sure promises of God. Though nearly 400 years old, it is a hymn for our times as well. Now, in this moment, thank we all our God…in all circumstances, in every trial…because, as Rinkhart wrote, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, “has blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.” That is something to be thankful for!
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