Pathways Parishes Moderator/Chaplain
The place was Eilenburg, Saxony (in what is now Germany), and the time, the beginning of the horrific Thirty Years’ War. The people were the good folk of that town and its churches and so many people who entered it — soldiers who came to invade and human beings who were fugitives and refugees from the violence that surrounded them. What accompanied them was plague, pestilence, and a virulent pandemic. Things got worse and worse for the people and for the pastor, Martin Rinkart.
Pastor Rinkart was a faithful pastor and a theological son of the Lutheran tradition. He was confronted by his surroundings and all the sickness in stark ways. He prayed, led, and visited his flock, but the moment called upon him to do so much more: burial upon burial upon burial, sometimes 50 a day. In the worst year, the parish register shows that – as the only pastor still living in the city – he did more than 4,000 burials, including that of his own beloved spouse.
What could Pastor Rinkart do? How could he continue on his pathway of faith and ministry? Where was his strength to be found?
An important part of his spirituality was writing the texts for hymns as a way of expressing what was most solid, enduring, and hopeful in his faith and in his life. So that is what he did. He wrote a hymn. It was a hymn of thanksgiving – of all things – and deep gratitude.
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.
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 in His grace and guide us when perplexed.
And guard us through all ills in this world, till the next!
At all times…in all places, wondrously…paradoxically.
This hymn was and is one of the greatest expressions of thanksgiving and gratitude of all time. It has brought tears to my eyes when multitudes have gathered to praise the Creator, and it brings tears to my eyes when we are socially isolated, sheltered at home, and unsure about the future. It pertains to me, and it pertains to us in our pathway of faith, our pathway of vitality. Because…it is gratitude and thanksgiving that helps us recognize the grace and goodness of God, even in times like these. It is gratitude and thanksgiving that frees me to be generous in spirit and loving in action. It is gratitude and thanksgiving that fortifies my soul to walk the walk of faith and life.
“Now Thank We All Our God” – now, at this time, in the face of challenge and anxiety. Thus we proceed on the pathway accompanied by God, strengthened by God’s grace, and loved, so deeply loved.