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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Now thank we all our God
with hearts and hands and voices,
who wondrous things hath done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who, from our mothers’ arms,
hath 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 blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us in God’s grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
in this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God,
who reigns in highest heaven,
to Father and to Son
and Spirit now be given:
the one eternal God,
whom heaven and earth adore,
the God who was, and is,
and shall be evermore.

Martin Rinkhart’s “Now Thank We All Our God”
(tune: Nun Danket Alle Gott)
trans. Catherine Winkworth
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Although you’d never know it from the upbeat tune and the lyrics extolling God bounty, the history behind “Now Thank We All Our God” and its author, Martin Rinkhart, is actually quite challenging. Rinkhart was a pastor in Eilenberg, Germany—a city that became flooded with refugees during the Thirty Years’ War, which raged throughout central Europe, and a city that dealt with a terrible plague outbreak in the midst of that lengthy conflict. By 1637, every single clergy person in Eilenberg other than Rinkhart had died of the plague—which left him alone to preside over close to fifty funerals a day.

The number of funerals that Rinkhart performed that year (an estimated 4,000) is a jaw-dropping and troubling figure, but what is truly jaw-dropping is his unshakable faith in the midst of all of that tragedy. Although the exact date that he wrote “Now Thank We All Our God” is unknown, most scholars believe Rinkhart wrote the words to the hymn during the middle of the Thirty Years’ War, shortly before the plague outbreak demanded all of his clerical services. Later, when the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648, Rinkhart’s hymn text was set to music and used as a thanksgiving celebration for the end of the war.

How could Rinkhart sing God’s praises so beautifully, even surrounded by disease, hunger, and death? The answer lies in his unshakable faith in the “bounteous God—the God who was, and is, and shall be forevermore.”

No matter what is going on in our lives, we always have a promise from God that God will be with us through it all—truly a reason for thanksgiving!

God, even in the dark seasons of my life, help me to feel your presence and to know that you will be there to walk with me through it all. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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