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The lovely words of praise and faith found in the hymn Now Thank We All Our God would lead us to believe that this hymn was written during a time of victory. Quite the opposite was the case. Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran pastor in Eilenburg, Germany, wrote the hymn during the Thirty Year War which raged in Germany during the 1600s.

Eilenburg was a walled city and was a place of refuge for thousands of refugees fleeing the war. As it filled with helpless victims, the city became overcrowded and was under-supplied with food, sanitation, and medical care. Instead of a place of refuge, it soon became a city of death. Plagues raged through the city claiming hundreds of victims.

In the midst of misery and pain, Reverend Rinkart wrote sixty hymns of faith and hope. His hymns helped turn the people’s eyes from their despair to the power and love of God. Rinkart encouraged them to look beyond their circumstances to the eternal blessings of God. With this confidence, Rinkart was able to minister to thousands. In the terrible plague of 1637, other pastors fled or died, and Rinkart was left alone to bury close to 4500 men, women, and children. Some days he would conduct 45 funerals.

As the war drew to a close, Eilenburg was overrun by several armies. At one point, the Swedish army occupied the city, and the general in charge demanded that the people pay a large tribute. On behalf of the people, Rev. Rinkart spoke to the general and begged for mercy. The general was unyielding. Facing possible death, Rinkart called his companions to kneel and pray. “Come my children, we can find no mercy with (humans); let us take refuge with God.” He led the prayer and the singing of a hymn. Stunned, the general watched. When Rinkart rose, the general ordered the levy reduced, and he spared the city. It was with this faith that Rinkart wrote, “Now Thank We All Our God.”

This story not only underscores the importance that thanksgiving is thanksliving; that even in times of hardship and suffering we can give God thanks, like Pastor Rinkart. It also attests to the truth of today’s second lesson, that prayer and thanksgivings be made for everyone (including our enemies, those folks whom we have trouble praying for), and we are instructed to give thanks for our political leaders too—for all who are in high positions. This is no small task. It is a challenging one and difficult one—especially when we are called to pray for and thank the LORD for those whom we may not like, those whom we may radically disagree with politically, those whom we might even consider our enemies. And yet, because thanksgiving is thanksliving; implied here in this passage is that our thanksgivings and prayers have a part in the grand scheme of God’s saving work—indeed, they may very well avert tragedies, wars, and disasters. Moreover, our prayers and thanksgivings may even help us and others to live a quiet, peaceable life in all godliness and dignity, as well as help us and others to come to the saving knowledge of the truth. Thanksgiving is thanksliving. Thanks be to God for everything and everyone.