This generation, like those that have come before, says that we are living in difficult times. We are not unique in making this declaration: All times are difficult in their own way to those living in them. What matters is how we live in those times.
One of the Thanksgiving hymns of my childhood is Now Thank We All Our God. With its warm harmonies, just hearing it conjures up the feelings and images of Thanksgiving: family, harvest, and feasting. But the writer of the hymn was truly living in difficult times.
Martin Rinkhart was a University of Leipzig trained musician who became an archdeacon in the city of Eilenburg in 1617. The following year, the Thirty Years’ War began. During this war, Eilenburg, a city built within walls, became a haven for refugees seeking asylum. As a result of overcrowding, starvation and disease became rampant. One minister fled the city; two others died from the plague, leaving Rinkhart alone to minister to the people. At the height of the plague, he was performing as many as 50 funerals a day, his own wife among those who died. In one single year, he conducted more than 4000 funerals. He mortgaged his future income to provide what resources he could to those around him. Like others, he was forced to quarter troops in his own home. The town leaders blamed its dwindling finances on his acts of charity. Yet, under these difficult circumstances, he penned his now-famous hymn of thanksgiving.
Despite the desperate times, Rinkhart thanks a bountiful God of infinite blessings. He makes three requests: that the God keep, guide, and free his people from their plight. And then he ends with a Gloria Patri, in praise to the eternal Trinity.
“Now thank we all our God, with heart 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.
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.”
Peace finally came; the war ended eleven years after Rinkhart wrote this hymn. He died the following year.