OCTOBER: We can give thanks, even in hard times.
“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.”
What a beautiful hymn of thanksgiving for God’s blessings! Have you ever wondered where it came from and what inspired the hymn writer? I have–so I looked it up. Here’s how it came about.
In 1617, a young clergyman named Martin Rinkart came back to his home town of Eilenburg in the German state of Saxony, newly appointed to serve the church in that ancient walled city. But the very next year, war broke out–the war later named the Thirty Years’ War. Wave after wave of hungry refugees crowded into the city as armies devastated the countryside over and over again.
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 all in grace, and guide us when perplexed; And free us from all harm in this world and the next.
Martin and the three other pastors in town worked day and night to serve their suffering people–and then, two decades into the war, plague broke out in the starving city. One pastor ran away, hoping to escape death. The other two died of the plague, leaving Martin the only minister in Eilenburg during the worst of the epidemic. He presided over nearly 4,500 funerals in 1637–sometimes 50 in a day. Altogether, 8,000 townspeople died of plague that year, including Martin’s beloved wife, Christina.
And yet, during that horrible time, Martin was able to write this beautiful hymn. Can you imagine writing this joyful hymn of praise and thanksgiving even as war, disease and starvation raged all around, with no end in sight?
Pastor Martin lived to see better times. His hymn was published as a table prayer and quickly became well-known. The war finally ended in 1648, and his hymn was sung at the signing of the peace treaty. Pastor Martin died in his hometown the next year at the ripe old age of 63, having survived famine, pestilence and war. Do you think they sang his hymn at his funeral?
Pastor Martin’s beautiful hymn, translated into English by Catherine Winkworth, appears in our Lutheran hymnal as well as in those of many other denominations. And I know many of us will sing it at our Thanksgiving tables. Will you?
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given; the Son and Spirit blest, who reign in highest heaven; The one eternal God, whom earth and heav’n adore; For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore. – Evangelical Lutheran Worship 839, 840
Pastor Martin was able to see blessings and give thanks to God even during the darkest times of his family’s life and his community’s life. What blessings do we see today? How shall we give thanks? The connections formed among women of faith, not just within the congregation but across the synod and throughout the church, are among those blessings. We know this to be true, and so we gather Thankofferings in our circles, units and synodical organizations to support the churchwide women’s organization.
Many congregations hold Thankoffering services this time of year in thanksgiving for the many blessings poured out by our generous and loving God. For more than a century, Thankofferings have been a mainstay of our beloved community of women created in the image of God.
These generous gifts support the ongoing ministries of Women of the ELCA, ensuring that future generations of Lutheran women can also rejoice in their turn with this wonderful community of women acting boldly on their faith in Jesus Christ.
And all these generous Thankofferings will help ensure that future generations of Lutheran women will also rejoice in and give thanks for the blessings of this beloved community of women formed in the image of God in their turn.
This devotion was first published in November 2015.