Hymn Spotlight: Now We Thank We All Our God
The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) was as long and as agonizing as it sounds. Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran minister, spent a good part of it in the walled city of Eilenburg, Saxony, where he wrote this hymn (circa 1636) amidst great distress and destruction. The walls did little good; armies had overrun the city three times, and pestilence, famine and overcrowding added to the pain (in one year, 8000 people died). On the mean streets, starving people fought for a dead cat or crow. Rinkart was the sole surviving minister (it was said that he buried nearly 4400 corpses with his own hands), and he did his best to care for the victims who showed up at his doorstep –even invading troops. Eventually, the Swedish army returned and demanded the people of the city pay restitution – an almost impossible and cruel request of a sorry group of wretched paupers. Rinkart bargained with them, then fell to his knees and prayed. The army was somehow touched by his passion; they lowered the restitution, but in their heartlessness, did not dismiss it entirely. Out of this terror and misery comes one of the most beautiful and popular hymns in our faith.
Rinkart was already a prolific hymn writer when he penned this one, his most celebrated work. It has since been used often in Christian weddings and in German holidays of national thanksgiving.