Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thanksgiving Hymns

I’m struck with how many of our familiar and loved Thanksgiving hymns come out of particular events in the life of a church or community. How hymn writers conveyed their specific thanksgiving in a way that speaks across time, culture, and experience.

Examples include “All good gifts around us” –
We plow the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God’s almighty hand …

The hymn was written in English, extracted from a translation of a poem by Matthias Claudius (Germany) recounting a bounteous feast put on by Paul Erdmann. How’s that for a specific event turned into a classic hymn? (And how’s that, too, for the journey from a man’s dinner into English hymnody?)

Perhaps the most well-known Thanksgiving hymn, from the most amazing circumstances, is Martin Rinkart’s “Now thank we all our God.” Rinkart was a pastor in Eilenberg, Germany, in the midst of the Thirty Years War, a city under siege and decimated by the plague. At the height of the plague, he conducted up to 50 funerals per day. This hymn (especially when seen in the context of its creation) stands as a powerful example of Christian thanksgiving: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. The creation of this hymn shames my thanklessness. And I am reminded of the prayer of George Herbert:
Thou hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more – a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.

Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has 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.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace and guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills in this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns with them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.


robert said...

Always glad to meet a "poster child for traditional worship." As a hymnologist, I have been working for years to preserve our heritage of hymns and gospel songs.

If you enjoy getting a bit of background on these songs and their authors, I encourage you to bookmark my daily blog on the subject, Wordwise Hymns. God bless.

Chuck King said...

Good to meet you, Robert! I look forward to reading your work!