Now Thank We All Our God – by Greg Albrecht
Friend and Partner Letter from November 2022
Now thank we all our God, with heart 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
At 8:07 am, on the morning of January 13, 2018, an emergency ballistic missile alert was issued over cell phones, radio and television in the state of Hawaii. BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
At 8:45 am, 38 minutes later, the state of Hawaii sent a second emergency alert. THERE IS NO MISSILE THREAT OR DANGER TO THE STATE OF HAWAII. REPEAT. FALSE ALARM.
At that time, escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States had prompted a heightened state of readiness in Hawaii, geographically vulnerable to a nuclear attack from North Korea. Prior to January 13, 2018, Hawaii conducted 26 drills testing a siren warning system, and plans were made for an emergency alert to be sent to smartphones and one that would interrupt normal radio and television programming.
Eventually, responsibility for this false alert were attributed to an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency who had previously exhibited troubling behavior. While the state apologized for the miscommunication and the erroneous alert, and the state’s emergency management administrator eventually resigned, there were real and immediate consequences.
Residents and tourists alike, panic-stricken, huddled in any shelter they could find. The phone system, the Internet and wireless data services for cell phones were overloaded as people called relatives to say goodbye. One man reportedly suffered a heart attack minutes after saying what he thought were his last goodbyes to his children.
Actor and comedian Jim Carrey was in Hawaii on that day. After hearing the news of the reported incoming missile attack Carrey tried unsuccessfully to reach his daughter, and then walked outside to the lanai and spent eight minutes going through a “gratitude list.” Overwhelmed by the life he had been able to live, he closed his eyes and waited for the missiles. Reflecting on that time when he felt his world was ending, Carrey later said in an interview, “Now, I walk around the world knowing … if that should happen, where my head’s going to be. I’ll sit and thank God for the blessings in my life.”
Martin Rinkart (1586-1649) was a pastor, scholar, poet and musician who wrote the classic hymn “Now Thank We All Our God” in 1636, in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). The Thirty Years’ War remains one of the longest and most brutal wars in history, with eight million dead from military battles, as well as from the plague and the famine caused by this religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants.
This hymn of thanksgiving, which initially became popular as a prayer before meals, remains a favorite, classic Christian hymn. It also reminds us that blessings and prosperity do not inevitably produce thanksgiving, but gratitude often flows out of suffering and adversity. One year before the Thirty Years’ War broke out Rinkart started serving as a minister in his hometown of Eilenburg, Germany and remained there for 32 years until his death (in 1649, one year after the warfare ended). During his service in Eilenburg, residents of the city suffered horrendously. Thousands sought refuge in the walled city from the relentless warfare. Soldiers frequently plundered the homes of residents in Eilenburg, taking their limited supplies of grain.
When the Swedish armies needed money to continue their warfare, they demanded an exorbitant and impossible sum of money from Eilenburg. Martin Rinkart went to the tent of the commander of the army and pleaded with him. When the commander would not relent on the demand, Rinkart said to those who had accompanied him, “Come, by children, we can find no mercy with men, let us take refuge with God.” Rinkart and his followers fell on their knees, praying and singing, and the Swedish commander agreed to vastly reduce his monetary demands.
Martin Rinkart was a symbol and role model of being thankful in the midst of and in spite of adversity.
The year after Rinkart wrote “Now Thank We All Our God,” 8,000 people in Eilenburg (whose population was swollen by refugees) died of the plague, including Rinkart’s wife. There were times when Martin Rinkart was presiding over 40-50 burial services a day! A famine so extreme that 30 or 40 people in the town might fight over a dead cat was but one brutal, inhuman consequence of the plague.
Martin Rinkart, his life and his hymn, remains a sign and symbol of self-sacrificial service and thanksgiving in spite of adversity.
Exhausted by his tireless efforts to serve the overwhelming suffering in the beloved city of his birth, Rinkart died, a worn out and broken man. The legacy of Martin Rinkart is of a man who was thankful in the midst of and in spite of adversity. Perhaps Martin Rinkart, The thirty Years’ War, along with the plague and famine resulting in eight million deaths can help us put, COVID, the war in Ukraine, threats from China, Iran and North Korea, as well as inflation in perspective! Perhaps our collective response can be “Now Thank We All Our God.”
Giving Thanks is one of the central and frequent activities and behaviors in which Christ- followers engage. We do not need a day in the month of November in order to remind us to give thanks. We give thanks because our risen Lord lives such a life of gratitude within us. We, as Christ-followers, are a thankful people because we are God’s workmanship, and God is transforming us as his thankful and grateful children, as we mature in Christ.
You may know that Frederick Buechner has remained one of my favorite authors for 40-plus years. His words have inspired, lifted and helped me in my relationship with God. I read and re-read his words often. I quote and cite him frequently in my speaking and writing. When I think of thanksgiving and gratitude, I often remember the description in “A Room Called Remember” of an old Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell, depicting a woman and a boy bowing their heads to pray in a crowded city restaurant. Here is his Buechner’s word picture of this classic illustration:
There is a restaurant in a city somewhere, a sort of quick-lunch place with no tablecloths on the tables, just the ketchup and mustard jars on the bare wood. It seems to be raining outside. An elderly man with a raincoat and umbrella has turned at the door. Another man glances up as he sits there smoking a cigar over a newspaper and the remains of his coffee. Two teenagers sit at a table, one of them with a cigarette in his mouth. They are all looking at the same thing, which is an old woman and a small boy who are sharing a table with the teenagers. Their heads are bowed. They are saying grace.
The people watching them watch with dazed fascination. The small boy’s ears stick out from his head like the handles of a jug. The old woman’s eyes are closed, her hair untidy under a hat that has seen better days. The people are watching something that you feel they may have been part of once but are part of no longer. Through the plate-glass window and the rain, the city looks dim, monotonous, industrial. The old woman and the boy are saying grace there, and for a moment the silence is fathomless. The watchers are watching something that they’ve all but forgotten and will probably forget again as the moment passes. They could be watching creatures from another planet.
The old woman and the boy in their old-fashioned clothes, praying their old-fashioned prayer, are leftovers from a day that has long since ceased to be. It is not fashionable to praise Norman Rockwell over-much, that old master of nostalgia and American corn, but we have to praise him at least for this most haunting and maybe enduring of all his Saturday Evening Post covers which touches on something that I think touches us all.
Sadly, kindness, respect, thanksgiving and gratitude are outdated and archaic virtues today, relegated to the “olden” days.
Sadly, in the lives of many people thanksgiving and gratitude are reserved for only those times when they are particularly happy, in good health and feeling “on top of the world.”
However, the gospel teaches thanksgiving and gratitude as a way of life. “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and OVERFLOWING WITH THANKFULNESS (Colossians 2:7, my emphasis).
As a way of life thanksgiving and gratitude flow out of the grace of God and our risen Lord who lives within us. By, through and because of God’s grace we privileged, at all times and in every way, to be thankful!
You and I have everything for which to be thankful! Let us, together, as our worldwide family of CWR/PTM Friends and Partners, echo those majestic lyrics written by Martin Rinkart: “Now Thank We All Our God.” Happy Thanksgiving one and all!
With overflowing thanksgiving,