Counting blessings

 19 September 2020 |

At this time of the year, Harvest preparations would normally be well in hand; but, this year life is very different. With the possible reintroduction of a lockdown, churches are nervous about what it might mean for them in the coming weeks. One thing is for sure, gathering produce from the garden, greengrocer or supermarket to bring to church and to share it with local charities, is not going to happen. It is all rather gloomy especially as Harvest is one of those festivals that make us feel glad to be alive, puts us back in touch with nature, and is a hopeful sign of the goodness of God. And, not least, churches like singing “We plough the fields and scatter…” which is normally sung with gusto.

It would be easy to feel downhearted.

But churches have a responsibility to explore the message of hope in the gloom of disaster and even pandemic. Although we are not able to sing yet in church, we can reflect on the words of hymns. One of the great church hymns – sung to a great variety of tunes – is “Now thank we all our God”, and when it is sung the congregation is uplifted. It was written byPastor Martin Rinkart during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) as a table grace for his family, as the Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann reminds us in his recent publication, “Virus as a summons to Faith”. The hymn was written not just during the long war, but at a time of great pestilence when Rinkart it is said to have often buried as many as forty or fifty people a day. Although his wife also succumbed, Rinkart himself survived.

His prayer of thanks is set against a time of great trouble and relentless death, and yet he counted his blessings and still gave thanks to God. I’m not sure I have that kind of resilience in the face of such tragedy but I am reminded, with all Christians, that we believe in a God of Hope, a hope against hope!

Now thank we all our God, 
with hearts 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. 

O may this bounteous God 
through all our life be near us, 
with ever joyful hearts 
and blessed peace to cheer us; 
and keep us in his grace, 
and guide us when perplexed, 
and free us from all ills 
in this world and the next.