Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
-1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NRSV)
There are 138 passages of scripture on the subject of thanksgiving; however, few hymns are devoted exclusively to thanking God. Among the rich handful we do have is "Now Thank We All Our God." Upon hearing the hymn, one would never realize that this paean of praise was penned during times of tragic experiences.
From some of the most severe human hardships imaginable during the Thirty Years' War came this stately hymn, often called the national "Te Deum" of Germany because it has been sung on many occasions of national rejoicing. German Christians sing this hymn like American believers sing the Doxology.
Martin Rinkart, born in Eilenberg, Saxony, Germany, was the son of a poor coppersmith. He was for a time a boy chorister in the famous St. Thomas Church of Leipzig, Germany, where J. S. Bach was later musical director. Rinkart worked his way through the University of Leipzig and was ordained to the ministry of the Lutheran Church. At the age of 31, he was called to be the pastor in his native town of Eilenberg.
Rinkart arrived in Eilenberg just when the dreadful bloodshed was starting. Because it was a walled city, Eilenberg became a frightfully overcrowded refuge for political and military fugitives from far and near. Throughout the war years, several waves of deadly pestilence and famine swept the city as the various armies marched through the town, leaving death and destruction in their wake.
The Rinkart home served as a refuge for the afflicted victims, even though it is said that Rinkart often had difficulty in providing food and clothing for his own family. The plague of 1637 was particularly severe. At its height, Rinkart was the only remaining minister, often conducting as many as forty to fifty funeral services daily. In 1637, he conducted funerals for over five thousand residents, including his wife.
Yet, amazingly enough, he was a prolific writer of seven different dramatic productions on the events of the Reformation, as well as a total of 66 hymns. Germany is the home of protestant church music, and no hymn, with the exception of Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," has ever been used more widely in German churches than has this hymn.
Prayer for Today
Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices. Amen.