“In everything, give thanks,” commands the Apostle Paul (I Thessalonians 5:18). And, impressively, Paul wrote that sort of thing all the time to the churches under his care, even while he himself was in prison (Philippians 4:6).
But seriously: in everything?
Martin Rinkart was one who took the Apostle at his word, even in a time of epidemic.
Trained as both a musician and a pastor, Rinkart (b. 1586) was raised and schooled in the region of Leipzig, Germany. Working first as a church musician, he was not given his own pastorate until his later twenties—near Eisleben (birthplace of Martin Luther).
Soon he moved to his hometown, Eilenburg, and at thirty-one began pastoring the church. That first year Rinkart wrote a cycle of seven dramas, suggested by the centenary of the Reformation (1617). Alas, however, normal life was over for him quickly, as he had taken his pastoral charge just in time for the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). During this on-again, off-again conflict, which over three decades involved virtually every major power in Europe marching its armies back and forth over central Europe, Winkart pastored faithfully under terrific strain.
How faithfully? As Peter Marty relates recently in The Christian Century, the Swedish army repeatedly invaded the area, and because Eilenburg was a walled city, refugees from the countryside poured into the crowded town. Nowadays we tourists love prowling the narrow lanes of Europe’s “Old Cities,” but imagine life therein with only seventeenth-century hygiene and hordes of desperate people scrounging a living on every street.
Rinkart had to endure soldiers quartered in his home and the army regularly confiscating his family’s food and other goods. But these were small matters compared to the inevitable arrival of plague.
In 1637, a single year in the midst of the war, 8000 people died, including the clergy of the neighbouring parish, all but three of the town council, and Rinkart’s own wife. Rinkart pastored on, sometimes preaching burial services for as many as 200 people in a single week and eventually he buried more than 4000 persons. Somehow he himself remained perfectly well.
[For the rest, please click HERE.]