"The Church Has Been Here Before" May Letter From Bill Hall
May 29, 2020
Dear fellow sisters and brothers in Jesus,
As I write this letter, I am currently in my home office practicing self-isolation like so many other Canadians. As I have often said lately, what a difference a couple of weeks makes! As many of our world leaders and health experts have expressed, we are perhaps living with a “new normal”.
Living in uncharted territory is so difficult. Yet I have a strong sense that the Church has been here before. All we need to do is reflect on recent tragedies that have occurred to our own brethren in Mozambique or the Bahamas, to realize we live lives that are often on a knife edge.
A number of years ago I was struggling in coming up with a sermon for the next Sunday service. When I get in that mode, I start reading online articles of interest. For some reason I started to read about the writer of the well-known German hymn “Nun danket alle Gott,” which we know in English: “Now Thank We All Our God”.
Like many of the hymns we sing in the church, there is often a story behind the hymn. “Now Thank We All Our God” is no exception. It was written by Martin Rinckart. He was born in 1586 and at the age of 31 was offered a job as a Lutheran Pastor in his home town of Eilenburg, Germany.
Just one year after becoming a Lutheran Pastor, the Thirty Years’ War broke out across Europe. His home city was flooded by thousands of refugees, and this was accompanied by a famine because of a shortage of food. In addition to starvation, the crowded conditions brought on the plague. Rinckart and the three other pastors in the city each began to do ten or more funerals a day. One of the other pastors fled the city and the two others died, leaving Rinckart the only pastor in the entire city.
He found himself doing at least 50 funerals a day, one of which was for his own wife. It was said that he officiated almost 4,500 funerals by the end of the crisis. In addition, so many people were dying that the dead were buried in mass graves without any funeral service at all.
But Rinckart never gave up. He continued to minister to the community. Apparently, he gave away nearly everything he owned to the poor and needy. He ended up mortgaging his future income in order to care for his family and his neighbours.
At the end of the thirty-year ordeal, he penned this well-known hymn. Which reads:
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.
This past week, one of the scripture passages from the Revised Common Lectionary focused on Acts 2:42-47. In verse 42, we read about an early church that “…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Perhaps that is the best advice we can follow in these difficult times.
We may not be able to practice the face to face aspects of this passage, but we can still reach out to each other, through modern internet technology or even with an old school telephone. At the same time, we can pray for each other, the church, our neighbours, our leaders, and our fellow global citizens.
We also need to return again and again to the stories of our faith, whether found in the scriptures, or in the history of the church. Yes, the church has been here before.
May the love of the Triune God find you in the peace of Jesus.