|courtesy of U.S. Army / flickr|
This Thanksgiving comes at a strange time. The devastation and deaths in Paris have shaken us to the core. Like September 11th—the old fears come back to haunt us. Will we be safe? What do we do about ISIS? Shall we send more troops? How do we respond? How can we possibly take in refugees when we simply might be opening the door to terrorists. We stare at the TV at the sad scenes of mountains of flowers and candles and notes and grief-stricken faces in France. This Thanksgiving really does come at a strange time.
Like you, I have few answers. This Thanksgiving I remember the story of Martin Rinkart. He lived in Eilenburg, Germany where he was a Pastor in the 1600’s. His whole ministry was spent during the terrible Thirty Years War. His walled city of Eilenburg became a refuge for fugitives from all over. It was a hard time and that crowded place suffered from famine and disease. In 1637 a great pestilence swept across the city and officials and clergy either died or fled for their lives. Only Pastor Rinkart remained to care for the dying and the dead. History says that he read the burial service over 40 to 50 persons a day. In all he held 4,480 services. So many people died that finally there were buried in trenches, without funeral ties. Rinkhart’s wife was one of the 8,000 that perished. If that was not enough—first the Austrians and then the Swedes attacked the city and the 30,000 remaining citizens shrunk to 2,000. Somewhere during those nightmare years Pastor Rinkart sat down and wrote a hymn. Strange words for a hard time. Christians around the world still sing the hymn, ”Now Thank We All our God.”
Interestingly he first entitled the Hymn, “Short Grace Before Meals.” Sitting down before his meagre fare of little except pain and grief and hunger—he took a pen and wrote these words:
“Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done, In whom the world rejoices;
Who from our mother’s arms, Hath blest us on our way
With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today.”
Skeptics would call his words foolish and perhaps crazy. What possible good could come in such a time of devastation? I do not know. Surely they were not words of escape from a hard time. There was no place for Rinkart to hide.
Perhaps on this Thanksgiving—we also might bow our heads for our own short grace before our meal. Maybe Rinkart was on to something. In a time of great pain and sorrow we may not know what direction to take. But we can bow our hearts, too and remember. We are not in this mess alone. We are not simply left to our own paltry resources. There is more to life—hard and difficult—than evil and wrong and injustice. Remember that we are not the first people—or the last—that will stand before the abyss not knowing what to do. Remember that in this twisting, winding journey of life there really is hope at the heart of it all.
So with our plates full of so much this year—Martin Rinkart might help us all. Maybe Thanksgiving has come at just the right time after all. Rinkart may be right.
“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.”
(This blogspot was published in The Greenville News (SC) , November 23, 2015
--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com