16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Give thanks in all circumstances. You’ve heard that one before, right? That’s the kind of scripture we tend to read around the late fall, around Thanksgiving, around the time that “thankfulness” is in the air. Give thanks in all circumstances. But it’s not late fall right now. It’s nowhere near thanksgiving. And “thankfulness” doesn’t really seem to be in the air. Apprehension seems to be in the air. Anxiety. Frustration. Hope, too. But with it, a lot of fear. How do we give thanks in this season? How do we read and embrace this scripture in a season of coronavirus?
Those questions call to my mind the story of Martin Rinkart. He is mostly remembered by history as a great hymn writer — the author of the hymn “Now Thank We All Our God,” a hymn that, like our scripture for today, is often sung in the late fall, around Thanksgiving, around the time that “thankfulness” is in the air. Rinkart is remembered as a hymn writer… but in his day (the early seventeenth century, to be precise), he was a simple Lutheran pastor serving a congregation in his hometown city of Eilenburg, Germany. He served the people of that city during the Thirty Years’ War that ravaged Central Europe.
Thirty years. Three decades. For three decades, he watched as displaced and downtrodden refugees of war poured into his city. For three decades, he witnessed as devastating plagues struck threatened the people within it. For three decades, he served in the midst of gripping food shortages, abject suffering, and overwhelming loss of life. So if anyone in this world had cause to succumb to fear and frustration and abandon thankfulness and hope, it would’ve been Martin Rinkart. But throughout those thirty years, he didn’t succumb to fear and frustration. He didn’t abandon thankfulness and hope. Instead, near the end of his life, near the end of his ministry, near the end of those thirty harsh and heavy years, he wrote the poetic words that have become a time-honored and well-loved Thanksgiving hymn:
Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom this world rejoices.
Who, from our mother’s arms,
Hath led us on our way,
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.
Now thank we all our God. I don’t know about you, but I just can’t get over that kind of faith. I can’t get over the kind of faith that meets fear and frustration with thanksgiving and hope. In this season of coronavirus, it’s the kind of faith that I want to claim as my own. So give thanks in all circumstances — yes, even this one. This season, too, shall pass… and even in the midst of it, there is still reason to be thankful.
Why? Because our God has still offered us countless gifts of love.
Our God is bigger than coronavirus.
Our vision is bigger than coronavirus, too.
We are people blessing people.
We are Wesley Church.
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