As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, we would do well to turn in our United Methodist hymnals to hymn number 102 “Now Thank We All Our God.” If you will look down in the left hand corner you will see that the lyrics have been written by Martin Rinkart and it says the year he wrote the lyric was 1663 (considering that he died in 1649 that was quite an accomplishment!) Actually our hymnal has it wrong the lyrics were written in 1636, they transposed those last two numbers. I want to tell you the story behind this hymn so you will fully appreciate it and hopefully take it into Thanksgiving with you. You see, in 1636 the state of Saxony was suffering from the 30 Years War. Europe was all in turmoil. There were plagues and epidemics.
There also was fighting everywhere around Eilenberg the village where Martin Rinkart served as a Lutheran minister. The town was surrounded by a Swedish army and held in siege…they couldn’t get the water and food that they needed. People were dying left and right. The conditions were unsanitary…the plague was taking hold….and Rinkart was burying people at the rate of 50 a day!! I would imagine he was not able to give the individualized attention that he as a pastor would have wanted to do. Fifty burials a day and every other minister in the village had passed away had fallen victim to this plague. He was the only Christian minister left and he was charged with burying everybody that passed away that needed a Christian burial.
Finally the Swedish General gave a ransom demand – the amount of money needed to free them from this siege. Upon hearing the huge demand, the Lutheran priest opened the gates and pled for mercy from the Swiss general. He explained to him that the people inside were dying at a rapid rate and that they couldn’t afford the ransom. The general was so moved by his pleas that he drastically lowered the demands so that the remaining elders in the village were able to meet them. The village was saved!!
Afterwards as they were recovering from all the tragedy that had befallen this village, Rev. Rinkart wrote these words which would later be used as lyrics for our classic Thanksgiving hymn
Now thank we all our God with hearts and hand 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.
Christian leaders lean heavily on God’s sustaining strength and give thanks!!