Dear Thankful Lenten Pilgrims:
“Now Thank We All Our God” (LSB 895) is most assuredly not a Lenten hymn. In fact, for as long as I can remember, I have always sung the hymn “Now Thank We All Our God” for the Thanksgiving Day Divine Service at church. As a child, the Thanksgiving service was actually one of the most attended services at the congregation in which I grew up, and the singing of “Now Thank We All Our God” was usually a high point of that service.
As with so many hymns, there is a story that goes along with this particular hymn, and it is story that many people do not know.
The Rev. Martin Rinkart (1586–1649), the son of a coppersmith, was a German Lutheran pastor in the 1600s. He was initially denied entry as a Deacon (Assistant Pastor) in his hometown because the Superintendent (Bishop) believed that Rinkart was a stronger musician than he would be a pastor. He served in Eisleben, Germany, the birth and death place of Dr. Martin Luther, first as Kantor at St. Nicholas Church, then eventually as Deacon at St. Anne’s Church. At the age of 31, Rev. Rinkart was offered a position as Archdeacon (Senior Pastor) in his hometown of Eilenburg. It was there that he would serve as pastor for the rest of his life.
During his time as a pastor, Martin Rinkart endured two devastating events. The first was the effects of the Thirty Years War (1618–1648). This war fought by Protestants on one side and Roman Catholics on the other devastated Europe, especially Germany. People from all over the countryside fled into the walled city of Eilenburg for protection, filling the city to the breaking point. Such crowded conditions were the perfect breeding ground for famine and pandemic. This is exactly what happened.
In 1637, the city was crowded with refugees from the war when the plague broke out. This second devastation took the lives of his dear wife Christine, most of the town council, the clergy of the neighboring parish, and in total at least 4,000 people died. It was a devastating pandemic. Rev. Rickart was left as the only pastor providing care for the entire city, burying up to 50 people a day and having funerals for a total of 4,500 that year.
It was in this context of pastoral care, visiting the sick, burying the dead, acting as a town councilman, and serving as pastor to two very large congregations that Martin Rinkart wrote the hymn “Now Thank We All Our God” (LSB 895):
Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices, Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices; Who from our mothers’ arms has blest us on our way with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.
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 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. (LSB 895)
The thankfulness he describes is not some kind of false, worldly, and shallow thankfulness that has no real meaning, but one that is sung by Christians even in the most devastating of circumstances. Rev. Rinkart teaches us in this hymn to give praise to the Holy Trinity for all the blessings of this life, even those circumstances which may perplex us, like the pandemic through which we are currently living.
What circumstances are you facing this Lent? Are you struggling with some of the harsh realities of getting older? Are you dealing with financial stresses in your life? Are you facing family disruptions, disagreements, or separations? Are you faced with sickness, weakness, or the fear of such happening to you or to loved ones? Are you fearful about the future of your congregation, your neighborhood, the city, or even the nation?
Are you thankful to our gracious and giving God even in the face of all of these things?
For no matter the circumstances, you do have much for which to be thankful, and so do I! Pastor Rinkart reminds us of this. You have your life. You have all that is needed (and more) for the care of your body. You have this congregation—God’s Word and Sacraments—for the care of your soul. And, most especially, you have the sure knowledge that God has had mercy on you in Jesus Christ, Who has redeemed and saved you by His shed blood, by His life, death, and resurrection for you.
I encourage you to have a thankful Lent!
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Steven J. Anderson