I was thinking about what Thanksgiving hymn to use today, when I read this page in “The Quiet Place” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and had to include it here:
“Martin Rinkart was a seventeenth-century Lutheran pastor serving in his hometown of Eilenberg during the height of the Thirty Years’ War. A walled city, Eilenberg soon found itself overrun with refugees and injured troops, bringing on not only fear and overcrowding but a deadly wave of disease, pestilence, hunger, and want.
The Rinkart home became a makeshift refuge of sorts for many of the sick and stranded. And though limited with hardly enough food and supplies to care for his own family, Martin ministered tirelessly to the needs of those around him. When other pastors fled for safety, he stayed on, eventually conducting more than 4,500 funeral services that year.
One of those was for his wife.
And yet at some point amid these dire events, Martin composed a family grace to be said by his children before meals–a hymn still sung today all across Germany at state occasions and national days of remembrance: “Now thank we all our God, / With hearts and hands and voices, / Who wondrous things hath done, / In whom His world rejoices; / Who from our mother’s arms / Hath blessed us on our way / With countless gifts of love, / And still is ours today.”
When we sing these words in the comfortable surroundings of a Thanksgiving service at church, we smell turkey in the oven, warm bread on the table. We hear the voices of relatives, enjoying reconnecting and conversing with one another.
But make no mistake: this joy-filled refrain wasn’t birthed in the settled quiet of a country cottage. It was forged in pain and suffering and grief and death. True Thanksgiving comes at a cost. And no circumstances are so dire that they can’t produce hymns of joy and thanks on the lips of those who know their God.” *
An interesting thing about the hymn tune, attributed to Johann Cruger, is its use not only in the church, but also by classical composers. J.S. Bach included it in his cantatas, and Felix Mendelssohn devised the standard harmonization for the tune, which he used as the chorale in his second symphony, known as Hymn of Praise.
The full hymn, written by Martin Rinkart, circa 1636:
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.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd 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.
*Cited from “The Quiet Place: Daily Devotional Readings” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, daily reading for November 23rd.