The Weight of Giving Thanks
How does one give thanks after losing so much?
Amid the darkness of the Thirty Years’ War, German pastor Martin Rinkart is said to have buried nearly five thousand fellow citizens and parishioners in one year, including his young wife. Conducting as many as fifty funerals a day, Rinkart’s church was absolutely ravaged by war and plague, famine and economic disaster. Yet in the midst of that dark year, he sat down with his children and wrote the following lines as a prayer for the dinner table:
Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done,
In Whom his world rejoices.
Who, from our mother’s arms,
Hath led 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 still in grace,
and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills,
in this world and the next.
Rinkart’s expressions of thankfulness seem either incredibly foolish or mysteriously important. On the eve of a national holiday aimed at gratitude and thankfulness, an article in The New York Times questions similarly: “For many families—too many, really—across an America battered by wildfires, hurricanes and mass shootings, this Thanksgiving is the first major holiday since life was ripped apart. There will be familiar meals and rituals. And a haunting new question this year: How does one give thanks after losing so much?”(1)
If Rinkart asked this question, he asked as one in view of the God who lost much himself. Rinkart saw the suffering of Christ and the significance of a thanksgiving that bears that suffering. With the broken and defeated Jesus in mind, he saw that to be thankful was to encounter the presence and glory of one who died and was resurrected. This encounter thus holds everything else we encounter, whether a matter of despair or delight. Amidst the heaviness of darkness, Rinkart saw the wisdom in fixing his gaze on the light of Christ, the eternal weight of the glory of a God who died and yet lives.
It is encouraging to note that the general Greek word for “glory” used in secular writing took an entirely different shape in the New Testament. The word was particularly influenced by its Hebrew counterpart meaning “weighted” or “heavy,” and hence, denoting something of honor and importance. The word doxology, referring to an expression of praise, comes from the same Greek word. The etymology is fascinating because the word itself seems to cry out for comparison. Will the things I give most honor always measure up? Under the heaviness of life, what weight does the hope I profess actually carry? Or, asked another way, can one give thanks after losing so much?
The Apostle Paul wrote of his own dark encounters as fleeting moments in which he saw nonetheless an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”(2) Paul proclaims the eternal weightiness of his hope in Jesus Christ: “[F]or it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”(3) The peculiar message of hope in the midst of darkness originates for the Christian with the God who first spoke light into darkness, the God who made light to shine in the darkness of Christ’s grave, and the inextinguishable light of Christ given to shine upon us today. It is this God of intrinsic glory in whom we know light and life itself.
Martin Rinkart’s simple table grace was later made into a powerful hymn and sung at a celebration service at the end of the war. Adding a third stanza, Rinkart’s words continue with thanksgiving, concluding fittingly with words of doxology, proclaiming the weightiness of the glory of the one eternal God.
All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns
with Them in highest heaven;
The one eternal God,
Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Jack Healy and Julie Turkewitz, “After ‘So Much Sadness,’ What Is There to Be Thankful For?” The New York Times, November 22, 2017.
(2) See 2 Corinthians 4:16.
(3) 2 Corinthians 4:6.
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