Thursday, November 24, 2011

A little bit of history on the giving of thanks!

        From 1618 to 1648, the German kingdoms endured a horrible time called the Thirty Years War.  This may not seem to have much to do with Thanksgiving  but hang in there with me!
       At any rate, this was a terrible time, with different armies crisscrossing the land.  It wasn't uncommon for a village to be looted by one army, only to turn around and be sacked by another one!
       Just before the war started, a young man named Martin Rinkart finished training to be a pastor and was  assigned to preach in the city of Eilenburg, Saxony.  Just as he took up his new post, the war broke out and he found himself carrying out his duties in the thick of the fighting.  For the next three decades, this is where he ministered to his people and raised his family.
      One reason Eilenburg was so impacted by the war was because there was a wall around the city.  As the Swedish army ravaged Saxony, people fled to Eilenburg for refuge.  This led to terrible overcrowding which led to food shortages, starvation, and the outbreak of a horrific plague.  During the year of the plague, over 4,000 people died in this city.  It is said that 8,000 inhabitants died overall during the 30 years conflict.
     At the beginning of the war, there were 4 pastors in this area. One is said to have fled to a healthier, safer place and even though the other pastors begged him to return, he refused. I can understand why.   Two of the other pastors died during the war which left Martin Rinkart the only surviving  pastor in Eilenburg.  Towards the end of the war, he was burying 40 to 50 people a day.
   It is said that he gave as much food away as he could and because of this people were always flocking to his door. He also  went into great personal debt in order to meet the needs of others.  It is also said that during these three decades of suffering, he himself never became seriously ill.  However, one account I read said that this was not true of his family and that  before the war was over, he performed the burial service for his own wife.
    Also, at one point when the town was under siege by a Swedish army and the commander was demanding a huge ransom, Rinkart went outside the safety of the city wall  to plead for a lower amount of money.  The commander refused his plea so Rinkart turned to his people and said, "Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men, let us take refuge with God." He then fell to his knees and led his people in a poignant prayer which so touched the Swedish  warrior that he lowered his demands to almost nothing compared to the original amount.  This saved the city from being ransacked.
    Even though he was a faithful shepherd to his flock through all of this turmoil, one  account said that he reached a low point where he felt he could not go on.  It was at this point that  he rallied and  penned this hymn which is now commonly sung in churches in America on Thanksgiving Day:

 Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has 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 blessèd 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.

And that, I think, about says it all!

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