In times of sorrow, I sometimes remember Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran pastor in Ellenburg, Germany. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) coincided almost exactly with both his pastorate there and the last thirty years of his life. He is remembered largely for the popular hymn “Now Thank We All Our God” (396/397 in The Hymnal 1982). This joyous text has been translated into several languages and is found in many hymnbooks. It has been sung at countless weddings.
As a walled town, Ellenburg served as a place of refuge during wartime. In 1637, pestilence struck, and Rinkart found himself the only clergyman remaining there. He conducted 40-50 funerals each day for a total of over four thousand of the dead. This number included his first wife. Rinkart’s resources were then severely strained in responding to the famine that followed. Although he saved his town from Swedish invasion on two occasions, local authorities proved ungrateful. The date when Martin Rinkart wrote “Now thank we all our God” is uncertain, but he was still alive when it was sung in many places to mark the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
The Rev. Frederick Erickson, a retired university professor,