Updated: Dec 17, 2020
Danish: Nu takker alle Gud
German: Nun danket alle Gott
Icelandic: Nú gjaldi Guði þökk
Norwegian: Nå la oss takke Gud/ No takka alle Gud
Swedish: Nu tacka Gud, allt folk
Text: Martin Rinkart (1586-1649). Johann Crüger (1598-1664)
1 Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices, who wondrous things has done, in whom his world rejoices; who from our mothers' arms has blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
2 O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us, to keep us in his grace, and guide us when perplexed, and free us from all ills of this world in the next.
3 All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given, the Son and Spirit blest, who reign in highest heaven the one eternal God, whom heaven and earth adore; for thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore. Tr. Catherine Winkworth
MEDITATION Happy Thanksgiving! I had thought at the beginning I would reserve this hymn for the ending of the quarantine and all—it has been used for centuries as a hymn marking the end of hostilities—but here we are at the end of 8 months still in the battle. And not just against the virus, but against each other. The divisions go deep; families are divided on whether they can be together for the Thanksgiving dinner, even wondering about Christmas. Division is something Satan loves. He must be quite happy just now.
It isn’t just that we disagree about a process; we disagree on realty it seems, so conversations are not really possible. Strange how in an age of utter relativism, we are absolute about many things, even the science. The scientists are also divided—from the Great Barrington Declaration which says the world is overreacting to others who say our response should be more draconian.
What to do? It is hard to be rational when one is fearful. Is the fear justified? How do we handle fear? What are Christians saying? What should they say? Jesus and his angels usually began their encounters with "Fear not!"
The writer of this great hymn knew fear, if not his own, his people's. He lived much of his adult life during some of the worst years in European history—the Thirty Years War. A native of Eilenburg, in 1601 he went to the Thomas church school in Leipzig to be in the choir and then entered the University of Leipzig where he spent the next few years. He was called back to his hometown to be a pastor, but an enduring conflict between him and another made it impossible. Finally, he became deacon and cantor at St. Nicolas church in Eisleben, then at St. Anne’s church. In 1617 he was finally called to Eilenburg where he remained until his death.
In 1618, the Thirty Years’ War broke out and lasted until 1648. Eilenburg was a walled city, between Leipzig and Berlin, so it offered some relief from the raiding armies of Swedes that rampaged through the area between the years 1630-1635. Refugees crowded into the city to escape the conflict. Unfortunately, their crowding caused both famine and pestilence to break out. In 1637 bubonic plague devastated the city. The clergy in town all perished or fled and Rinkhart was the only one left to officiate at funerals which happened at the rate of 40 to 50 a day, among them his wife. At the end of the plague which lasted a few months he himself had buried over 4480 people. All told over 8000 people died from the plague. He also became ill but survived.
As he was recovering, a great famine struck during which time the Swedes attacked. Rinkhart did much to help his charges, risking his life and substance for his people. When the Swedish army besieged it demanding a high tribute, he led his starving people out to the general who relented when he saw their parlous condition and reduced the tribute money which Rinkhart mortgaged his house to pay. Even as he did much to alleviate the suffering, his superiors criticized his work. He died in 1649, a year after the Peace of Westphalia was announced. The exhausted people who had suffered for thirty years from the war and the accompanying pestilence, famine and violence, held services in their local churches to thank God with this hymn we think.
Rinkhart's hymn became traditional for the endings of conflicts and wars until the present. We can pray as we sing it this year in our homes that a witness as joyful and confident as this might emerge from our conflicts! And maybe bring us peace. Even so, Now thank we all our God!
HYMN INFO Rinkhart wrote the hymn around 1630 just as the Swedish armies started making their attacks on the German states. It was first published in his book of poems Jesus Hertz-Büchlein in 1636—and given the title "Table Prayer."
It did not receive its tune until Johann Crüger’s 1648 version of Praxis Pietatis Melica. Scholars are quite certain that the tune is by Crüger. Over time it began to be called the German Te Deum. It was sung at the celebration of the completion of the cathedral in Cologne and at the laying of the cornerstone of the Reichstag building in 1884.
The British and American people have used it for similar celebrations. Now it is one of the hymns associated with Thanksgiving, but also any other celebration which needs a song of Thanksgiving. Bach used the hymn in several works. We do not have the complete version of his cantata on the hymn, but we do have some of it. See below. A feast of possibilities!
Royal Albert Hall https://youtu.be/s99dNPKYtHk
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir https://youtu.be/9soiIGYYJ8w
Uppsala Cathedral service for the ordination of a bishop in 2018
Marko Hakanpää Finnish organist playing Virgil Fox arrangement https://youtu.be/SvB2P5u4H3w
Dresden Kreuzkor 800 Years celebration https://youtu.be/nDVyysCj2eE
Icelandic Schola Cantorum https://youtu.be/y3WZUhRCWuY
Egil Hovland’s organ spectacular on the hymn https://youtu.be/T1TIjlcPRbg
Den Danske Salmeduo
Bach Cantata BWV 79 Eliot Gardiner/Bach's incomplete version https://youtu.be/INeKvvSxy0U