Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mother’s arms hath blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
Happy Thanksgiving, one and all! I hope and pray that all of us are able, with the Psalmist (Psalm 100), to say, “Give thanks to [God], bless [God’s] name. For the LORD is good; [God’s] steadfast love endures forever, and [God’s] faithfulness to all generations.” Our Recessional Hymn on Sunday, Now Thank We All Our God, was written by a German Lutheran pastor, Archdeacon Martin Rinkart of Eilenburg, sometime during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), when the most horrific and bloody deeds were done by both Protestants and Catholics in religious warfare with mind-numbing violence, while plague also ravaged the land. Something like eight million people died, including all who died of disease and starvation, about a third of the population of the Germanys.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us,
and nourish us with grace, and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills in this world and the next.
In 1637 the plague was at its worst in Eilenburg, and several other pastors died. Rinkart buried them, and was saying the funeral service for up to fifty people a day. His wife also died, one of about four thousand people he buried that year. One might have expected him to despair. He did not. Instead, he wrote a prayer to say with his children. He did admit there to being ‘perplexed,’ but what a wonderful legacy of faithful thanksgiving he left to his children, and to millions of us since. This hymn is used widely around the world for thanksgiving services of many kinds, including Thanksgiving worship in both Canada and the USA.
All praise and thanks to God eternal now be given,
to Spirit and to Word, who reign in highest heaven:
our ever faithful God, whom heaven and earth adore;
for thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
Give thanks this weekend, dear friends, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday, whenever you are blessed with a meal and family or friends, but do give thanks every day also. What might happen if we all cultivated a spirit of thanksgiving like Pastor Rinkart’s? The Apostle believes it’s possible. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thess. 5:18) Not violence and bloody death, or even cancer and other sorrows; these are not God’s will. God’s will is that we give thanks IN all circumstances. To do that, take an inventory of blessings; as the song my Mum taught me (She is tops on my list of things for which I’m thankful…) long ago has it:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
Count your blessings, and give thanks to God, as Martin Rinkart did, even when he was burying more people every day than many clerics will bury in a lifetime, in the midst of war and pestilence, of hunger and desolation, of disease and darkness. Even then, his mind and heart in tune with a love far stronger than human hatred and barbarism, he was able to write a miraculous prayer of thanksgiving for his children, this wonderful hymn which we use again this Thanksgiving, giving thanks to God, the source of every good and perfect gift. My prayer for all of us is a blessed time of thanksgiving, hopefully shared with someone we love, and also a spirit of joyful thanksgiving in everything, with every day that comes, fresh from God’s hand, no matter what else it may bring.
Once more, let the Psalmist speak for us: “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for God’s steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 107)