Stuck in the back of our Baptist Hymnal is this thanksgiving hymn. It's melody is not peppy or particularly celebratory. It is a hymn you might be tempted to overlook if you favor a more contemporary flavor to your praise music. Afterall, what does a hymn written in Germany in the early 1600's have to say to us now? First, here are the lyrics, THEN comes the story behind the hymn...
Now Thank We All Our God Lyrics:
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, Whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
At first glance, it sounds like a "nice" poem of thanks. It is, however, much more than that. To me, it's more of an expression of a life perspective I want, particularly as a minister. The author, Martin Rinkart, was a pastor in the town of Eilenburg. His timing for entering the ministry could not have been worse. He began his minstry around 1617, when the Thirty Year War was beginning. (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Year_War)
I'm often tempted to complain about all I have to do. This year I have participated in more funerals (17) than any other year of my ministry. God is good at providing opportunities to humble me when I need it, and the story of Martin Rinkart does that. His town suffered during this horrible time of war (a lot of which was fueled by religious conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics), millions in Germany died...as did many of Rinkarts' fellow citizens, including ALL of the other clergy in the town. In 1637, when the plague was added to the death caused by war and famine, he conducted over 4,000 funerals, up to 50 a day, including the funeral of his wife. Later he would write this hymn as a poem for his children.
That he could survive his ministry of suffering and heartache which a perspective of faith and gratitude is nothing short of the miracle of God’s grace. So don’t dismiss old hymns too quickly. They just might rekindle your hope and gratitude in the midst of struggle. Someone once said, that “The pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts … nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.” For more on Rinkart go to: https://www.songsandhymns.org/people/detail/martin-rinkart