Updated: Nov 30, 2020
"Nun danket alle Gott mit Herzen, Mund und Händen, der große Dinge tut an uns und allen Enden, der uns von Mutterleib und Kindesbeinen an unzählig viel zu gut bis hierher hat getan.
Der ewig reiche Gott woll uns in unserm Leben ein immer fröhlich Herz und edlen Frieden geben, und uns in seiner Gnad erhalten fort und fort, und uns aus aller Not erlösen hier und dort.
Lob, Ehr und Preis sei Gott, dem Vater und dem Sohne, und Gott, dem Heilgen Geist im höchsten Himmelsthrone, ihm, dem dreieinen Gott, wie es im Anfang war und ist und bleiben wird so jetzt und immerdar." (1)
This year has definitely been an interesting one, but as we approach Thanksgiving Day there are many things to be thankful for.
As many of us have experienced this year with COVID-19, we (or at least I) have thought back to other times of pandemics, wars, or tribulation. There has been quite a bit of talk about the 1918 Spanish Flu, but that is not the only pandemic that has changed peoples' lives or the world as we know it. There was a pandemic in the 1600s in Germany that brought us our story for today.
It is often the case that the strongest words of comfort come from those in times of greatest distress. Many poems have such hope and strength on their own, but when we learn the stories behind them it adds to the depth of the wisdom these words contain. Poems that come to mind are Horatio Spafford's It Is Well With My Soul, Karolina Wilhelmina Sandell-Berg's Children of the Heavenly Father or Day By Day, or George Neumark's If You But Trust in God to Guide You.
In college, I had the privilege of taking a class from my Grandfather (he is a music professor at the school I attended) - the course was entitled Music in the Christian Church. My Grandfather led the class in singing hymns from the hymnal, as well as occasionally telling some of the stories behind the hymns. One of these stories that caught my attention was the story of the hymn in the title of this blog post.
The poem, Now Thank We All Our God, was written by a man named Martin Rinkart. He was born on the 23rd of April 1586. Rinkart was the son of a poor coppersmith, who lived in Leipzig, Germany. Rinkart attended the University at Leipzig and went on to become an archdeacon, in his church in Elienburg, Germany. Then the Thirty-years War (1618-1648) broke out which brought death to his town. Near the end of the Thirty-years War, in 1637, a plague broke out in the town.
"And the plague that followed in 1637 quickly spread throughout the town, claiming more than eight thousand persons in a single year there. To make matters worse, however, the church superintendent went away for a change of air and never came back. And of the remaining five clergy in town, four quickly died from the plague, leaving only the young archdeacon [Rinkart] to carry on. He often read the funeral service to some 40 to 50 persons a day, in fact, and in all, he buried some 4,480 individuals that year, including his first wife. Still, Martin Rinkart labored on with an almost inexplicable trust in God and a readiness to give thanks."(2)
Through all he went through, he was able to still thank GOD. May we, in this Thanksgiving, who have safe places to live and the technology to connect with friends and family this season, be ever more thankful for the things we do have when so much is being taken from others.
"May we, in this time of a pandemic, yearn for the faith, trust, gratitude, courage and love which undergirded the life and work of Martin Rinkart.
May we remember those afflicted with the virus who cannot be held and embraced by their loved ones as they die.
May we remember those who must risk their own health to care for the afflicted—those who must choose between preserving their own health and going to work to put food on the family table.
May we remember those who will lose work and have no monetary cushion.
When we cannot embrace our loved ones, let us seek new ways to be the a loving embrace of God to our neighbors.
Now to end with the words that Rinkart wrote himself, translated by Catherine Winkworth:
"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 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." (4)
https://www.hymnologyarchive.com/nun-danket-alle-gott This article tells the story of the words being set to music as well as has pictures of the words as they were originally published.
https://spaffordcenter.org/about-us/history/ Horatio Spafford's families legacy