“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”
Human history is a history of war and peace, the manifestation of conflicts that never fully resolve. We hold onto peace by our fingernails, knowing all the while that sooner or later it will escape our grasp. As a nation, we have been in a state of war for sixteen years in a region of the world that has been at war for millennia. It’s hard to understand even when it began, much less to predict when it might end...or if it will. And yet we are called to be a people of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. We are called to be a people of forgiveness and love and peace. We are called...to be thankful.
Martin Rinkart was a 17th century Lutheran Deacon. He lived in the walled city of Eilenberg, Saxony, during the Thirty Years’ War. The conditions in the city were dreadful. The city was overrun by invading forces no less than three times, and when it was not overrun by invaders, it was overrun with famine and epidemic. In 1637, four ministers served the city. One fled, and Rinkart buried the other two. Being the only minister left, he performed as many as fifty funerals each day. Later that year he buried his own wife.
How easy it is to be thankful when life is happiness—when there is turkey on the table and we are surrounded by those we love. How difficult it is to be thankful when fear or pain or loss or all of the above reign in our lives—when we are crippled by anxiety and suffering.
If there were ever anyone who could be forgiven for failing to be thankful, it was Rinkart. And yet it was while in Eilenberg that Rinkart wrote a prayer of thankfulness for his children that became one of the best-known hymns of thankfulness in the church.
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.
Our call to be a thankful people is most important when it is most challenging. In times of loss, giving thanks reminds us of what we still have. In times of pain, giving thanks is a soothing balm. It is with this soothing, life-giving gratitude in our hearts that we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God...and to each other.
Maybe today it is easy for you to be thankful, or maybe today it is a challenge. Either way, it is with thankfulness in our hearts that we come to you, hopeful that our songs will resonate with those in your heart, and that together we will experience something of divine peace.
It is so difficult to be thankful for the things that hurt us. Frankly it sounds absurd. But I guess that depends on how you conceive of being thankful. If you're talking about being happy that something has happened, it is absolutely absurd! On the other hand, if you're talking about understanding that everything in our life combines to make us who we are, and that the things that hurt the most frequently carry with them the most personal growth, well, if we can get to a place where we can be thankful for that, then we are better for it.
Often we confuse joy and happiness, and I think the same dynamic is at play here. Joy and thankfulness are not the same as happiness. Happiness is born of mood. Joy and thankfulness are born of profound hope. You might even say it's Easter Hope that somehow none of this will be wasted--that in the fullness of time we will understand how the broken pieces of our lives fit together with those of other lives to make a profoundly beautiful mosaic.