A Hymn and Prayer for Thanksgiving

“Feeling new strength,” Beethoven scribed across one of the last string quartets he would write. It’s a remarkable statement; the master was completely deaf at this point and had just recovered from a near-fatal illness. Far from despondent, he titled the third movement of his string quartet opus 132, “Holy Song of Thanksgiving by a Convalescent to the Divinity, in the Lydian Mode.”

We offer Beethoven’s Hymn of Thanksgiving today along with the words of David. This prayer of thanksgiving, found in Psalm 103, holds the words of another man who knew both glory and suffering yet chose to rest in thankfulness and worship:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; or the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!

Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Listen: Beethoven’s Hymn of Thanksgiving: String Quartet No. 15, Op. 132: III. Molto adagio. Tokyo String Quartet (16:03).

Read more and listen to the entire String Quartet No. 15 on NPR Music.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 22 (Listen – 3:25)
1 Peter 3 (Listen – 3:30)


Goodness and Mercy

1 Peter 2.9-10
Proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 

As we prepare to spend a day of thanksgiving, I’m reminded that I’ll say thanks to God far more often than I’ll follow the instruction of 1 Peter 2 and proclaim my thankfulness for God.

The Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne, whose Scripture reading plan we follow on The Park Forum, explains why we can be thankful for God:
1. He is good. Believers should praise God for what he is in himself. When a sinner is brought to Christ, he is brought to the Father. Jesus gave himself for us, “that he might bring us to God.” Oh! what a sight breaks in upon the soul, the infinite, eternal, unchangeable God!

Praise him for his pure, lovely holiness, that cannot bear any sin in his sight. Cry, like the angels, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” Praise him for his infinite wisdom, that he knows the end from the beginning. In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Praise him for his power, that all matter, all mind, is in his hand. The heart of the king, the heart of saint and sinner, are all in his hand. Hallelujah! for the Lord God Omnipotent reigns. Praise him for his love; for God is love

2. For his mercy, for what he has done for us. “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” Praise him, O my people! for he is good; for his mercy endures for ever. You were in the burning; the pains of hell were actually getting hold on you. You had a hell in your own hearts; but the Lord snatched you from the burning. Will you not praise him?

Dear children of God, unite your praises. Let your hearts no more be divided. Join in one cry: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain; thou art worthy to open the book; thou art worthy to reign in our hearts.” And, oh! be fervent in praise. Lift up your voices in it; lift up your hearts in it.
M’Cheyne observes that in the Scriptures “thanksgiving brings down the Spirit of God.” In this way, gathering with our family and friends to say thanks is an act of worship.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 21 (Listen – 5:03)
1 Peter 2 (Listen – 3:48)


Thanksgiving in Times of Trial

1 Peter 1.6-7

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

The first-century church suffered greatly under the foot of Rome’s hostility. The first Christians were heavily persecuted under the Roman emperor Nero, banished by Domitian (John wrote Revelation after he was exiled by the emperor), and excluded from commerce and public office by Trajan.

The book of 1 Peter highlights the differences between the early church and its culture in a surprising way. “We expect injunctions to reject the ways of the world; instead we find admonitions to follow the path of Christ,” says Miroslav Volf. “The faith of the Petrine community is nourished more on its own in­trinsic vision than on the deprecatory stories about others.”

Dr. Volf, who is the founder of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture, notes that, “The author seems less interested in hurling threats against the unbelieving and ag­gressive non-Christian neighbors, than in celebrating Christians’ special status before God. Christian hope, not the damnation of non-Christians, figures centrally in the letter.” Volf explains:

Identity can be forged through two related but clearly distinct processes: either through a negative process of rejecting the beliefs and practices of others, or through a positive process of giving allegiance to something distinctive. It is significant that 1 Peter consistently establishes the difference positively, not negatively. There are no direct injunctions not to behave as non-Christians do. Rather, the exhortation to be different centers primarily on the positive example of a holy God and of the suffering Christ.

When we encounter negative examples of how Christians should not behave, then our attention is drawn not so much to the life-style of non-Christians as to “the de­sires of the flesh that wage war against the soul” (2:11). These are, as 1 Peter points out ex­plicitly, the former desires of Christians themselves. The force of the injunction is not “Do not be as your neighbors are!” but “Do not be as you were!”

The first Christians were thankful in suffering because their focus rested not on the storm around them, but on the solid rock of Christ. The Church was, as it is today, the earthly testimony that the miracle of grace always outshines the darkness of suffering.

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 19-20 (Listen – 4:52)
1 Peter 1 (Listen – 3:53)