As we in the United States of America join in our National Day of Thanksgiving, my thoughts turn to those early European settlers in the New World, who gave humble and hearty thanks after the extreme sufferings of a harsh winter and a devastating famine. In the midst of our plenty, we tend to be less thankful to our God in Christ than were those poor souls who had lost so much.
I am also put in mind of the hymn with which my congregation concluded this year’s Thanksgiving Eve celebration: Martin Rinckart’s “Now Thank We All Our God” (“Nun danket alle Gott“). Rinckart himself may seem not to have had much for which to be thankful. Like those Plymouth Pilgrims, he had suffered profoundly. Serving as pastor (archdeacon) of Eilenburg during the worst of the Thirty Years’ War, which brought with it not only wanton destruction but also the horrors of plague, Rinckart buried literally thousands of his parishioners, including, in 1637, his own wife. And yet this embattled clergyman produced one of the most jubilant hymns of thanksgiving ever penned.Rinckart patterned his thanksgiving hymn, originally intended as a table prayer, after a selection of verses from the Apocrypha, which, while not received as inspired Scripture among the Lutherans, continued to be read and held in esteem among them for centuries. The verses in question are Sirach 50:22–24, “Now therefore bless ye the God of all, which only doeth wondrous things every where, which exalteth our days from the womb, and dealeth with us according to his mercy. He grant us joyfulness of heart, and that peace may be in our days in Israel for ever: That he would confirm his mercy with us, and deliver us at his time!” In fact, this passage served as the text from which the chaplains preached in thanksgiving at the conclusion of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. It may be in connection with this joyous occasion that Rinckart wrote his hymn.
May Rinckart’s words, and Johann Crüger’s glorious melody, truly embody our spirit of thankfulness toward our gracious God in Christ.