|Altar design by Karen Barkowski. John Coleman photo.|
The hymn “Now Thank We All Our God” was written by a Lutheran minister, Martin Rinkart (1586-1649). We sing it often during this season of Thanksgiving in praise of our “bounteous God.” But the backdrop of this hymn writer’s life was filled with death, looking nothing like a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting.
Rinkart penned the words of this hymn during the Thirty-Years’ War between Protestants and Catholics. He was one of four parish pastors serving at that time in Eilenburg, Saxony, located in East Germany. But when the war continued to rage on, one pastor left, two died and he alone was left to serve the people.
Eilenburg was a walled city. So, it became a place for refugees, and thus, there was a great shortage of food. Then the plague set in, and scores of people died from this dreaded disease.
Rinkart performed 40 to 50 funerals a day, including his wife’s funeral. It was estimated that he buried more than 4,480 people.
After the plague came an invading army of Swedes demanding that tribute be paid. The besieged pastor served as the negotiator with the Swedish army; and he paid them the tribute with his own money. When the army refused to leave the town, he gathered the people for intensive prayer. Miraculously, the Swedes departed in peace.