As one traveled the highways in Southeast Missouri in early November, you couldn’t help but notice that the corn, rice, and soybeans are starting to take on their fall colors.
We pray this year that the farmers have had a great harvest.
It has been a challenging spring and summer for farmers to get their crops in the ground and then to have sufficient moisture for them to grow.
For those of us who are not farmers but gardeners, we have noticed that our gardens almost quit producing.
During the month of July, I think I watered my garden and tropical plants almost every day.
Many of us still lost plants.
I am thankful that I had a bountiful harvest of tomatoes beginning in mid-May.
But also in November, our thoughts turn to the meaning of Thanksgiving and what we are thankful for.
If we are honest with ourselves, the last three years have been really hard on us.
During the first and second years of COVID-19 many people never left their homes except for necessary doctor appointments and then that was often a scary challenge.
Suddenly, doctor appointments came by “Zoom” meetings.
We could not visit loved ones in the hospitals.
We had to quickly learn about “Zoom” and “Skype” meetings at work and broadcasting our church worship and studies “online.”
Schools held classes online for over a year. Many sporting events were canceled or held in empty gyms or on fields without spectators.
I am thankful for “FaceTime” and “Duo,” for our smart devices so that we could at least see and hear the voices of our family members.
It was a very difficult time, especially for those facing end of life in their family and friends.
Many feel there has not been much to be thankful for with all that is going on in our nation and in the world around us, with rising prices at the fuel pumps and for basic necessities of life.
Perhaps this year will be the first time we really truly feel safe gathering together with family and friends.
But as I think about the past three years, one of my favorite Thanksgiving hymns is, “Now We Thank Thee All Our God.”
One would never realize this poem of praise was penned during times of tragic experiences.
There is an interesting backstory to that hymn.
According to hymnologist, this is how the hymn came about.
Out of some of the most severe human hardships imaginable during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), this hymn was penned.
It’s writer, Martin Rinkart, was born on April 23, 1586, in Eilenberg, Saxony, Germany.
He was the son of a poor coppersmith.
For a time, he was a boy in St. Thomas Church of Leipzig, Germany, where J.S. Bach was later musical director.
Rinkart worked his way through the University of Leipzig and was ordained to the ministry of the Lutheran Church.
At the age of 31, he was called to be the pastor in his native town of Eilenberg.
He arrived there just when the dreadful bloodshed was starting.
Because Eilenberg was a walled city, it became a frightfully overcrowded refuge for political and military fugitives from far and near.
Throughout these war years, several waves of deadly pestilence and famine swept the city as the various armies marched through the town, leaving death and destruction in their wake.
Rinkart’s home served as a refuge for the afflicted victims, even though it is said Rinkart often had difficulty in providing food and clothing for his own family.
The plague of 1637 was particularly severe.
At its height, Rinkart was the only remaining minister, often conductiing as many as 40-50 funeral services daily.
Rinkart was a prolific writer of several different dramatic productions on the events of the Reformation as well as a total of 66 hymns.
During the closing years of the war, Eilenberg was overrun by invading armies on three different occasions.
During one of the occupation, there came the demand that a large payment be made by these already impoverished people.
It is said that when the Swedish commander would not at first consider Rinkart’s request for a lowering of the levy, the pastor turned to his humble parishioners and said, “Come, my children, we can find no mercy with man; let us take refuge with God.”
Rinkart interceded with the leaders of the army with such purpose, supported by the prayers of his people, that the tribute demand was finally reduced to a much smaller amount.
So, if the hymn writer can write a joyful song about God’s blessing even in very difficult times that stretched over years how about us?
The Apostle Paul tells the early Christians in Thessalonica who were enduring harsh suffering under the Romans, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
As we enjoy our Thanksgiving time with family and friends, we have options.
We can lament the last three years and feel sorry for ourselves.
Or we can be thankful that even in the mist of all that was going on, God was there with us.
As the psalmist says, “I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.” Psalms 34:1
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalms 118:1
“Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices.”
Thanks be to God!
Rev. Frank Chlastak began work as senior minister of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Poplar Bluff in 2015. He is a graduate of Northeast Louisiana University and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and has served congregations of the Christian Church in Louisiana, Arkansas, Virginia, Oklahoma and Missouri.