Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Faith Works 11-17-07
Jeff Gill

Now Thank We All Our God

Back a few weeks, I asked for your prayers and I know I was blessed with them, many fold.

The reason I was looking for a little extra divine boost was a trip to meet with a few dozen pastors and lay leaders to discuss evangelism. The workshop was based on the book “Unbinding the Gospel,” which I’ve written about in this space before, and Gay Reese has two more books coming out Jan. 1, designed to help congregations implement the ideas presented in “Unbinding.” Together, they’ll be known as the “Real Life Evangelism” series, and I’ll have more to say about them after, oh, Jan. 1!

(But you can scope out amazon.com for pre-release info on ‘em.)

We’ll know more as the congregations involved work the process, but the sense of the workshop day was that we were doing something exciting and worthwhile. Thank you again for your prayers!

Soon, in some communities even tonight, there will be gatherings for a Thanksgiving service. Odds are good that you will sing, at some point, a hymn I grew up hearing referred to as “Nun danket alles Gott.”

In the very, very German town where I grew up, hymn tunes were noted in the church bulletin, and the tune name was usually “auf Deutsch.” Lutheran, Missouri Synod Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, or Roman Catholic, we all had our organists from the doctoral program at Valparaiso University, where Bach, Buxtehude, and Beethoven were the holy trinity.

What we also got were stories, probably told at choir practice and often folded into the sermons, about where these warhorses of church life came from. “Nun danket,” or “Now Thank We All Our God” is one of those.

1636. The Thirty Years’ War had been going on for, well, about thirty years, but they weren’t calling it that yet. It was the just the war they’d always known.

In Eilenburg, Saxony, a dukedom of what is now Germany, this small walled city was the front line of the north German war against Sweden. The Swedish army had invested Eilenberg in a siege, destroying hundreds of homes by fire and shot. The pressure on food and forage, the lack of sanitation and fresh water meant disase and plague started to aid the Swedish side.

Eilenberg had a number of Lutheran churches, including Pastor Martin Rinkart. Those churches dealt with a steadily increasing number of funerals each and every day, and even pastors began to die.

Martin Rinkart survived, until he was the only living pastor, doing up to 50 funerals a day, for young and old, soldier and grandmother alike. As with most sieges, the strain of maintaining their position led even the near-victorious Swedes to look for a speedy resolution for the conflict, before plague got into their wells and camp kitchens.

So the besieging army asked for a huge ransom, hoping for a payday that would break the city, and allow them to return home with pride. Rinkart, as the last clerical official, chose to go out to the commander of the opposing army, and plead for mercy under a flag of truce – a flag often disregarded in the last thirty years.

Hearing the tale of Rinkart’s faithfulness and steadfastness, the general was moved, and lowered his demands to what could reasonably be paid that day, and the army disappeared by the next morning.

It was just after the relief of Eilenberg that peace was declared between Saxony and Sweden, long overdue but cause for great pent-up rejoicing. Part of the city celebration was a worship service for the whole community, planned by Pastor Rinkart.

He wrote a hymn for that service, the song we know as “Now Thank We All Our God.” When you sing it in the knowledge of the hundreds of deaths and funerals and committal services the author had just seen before writing these words, it has a very different ring to the announcement of Thanksgiving.

May you find much to be truly thankful for this Thanksgiving season, and do it with your community in prayer and song!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; alles gut, danke, and your good news kann gehen zu knapsack77@gmail.com.

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