Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to strengthen the connection between worship and daily living. Carefully-chosen hymns can reinforce this tie. Memorable music helps well-chosen words linger in our minds, so that worship both models and molds our ethics.
“For the Fruit of All Creation” (The Baptist Hymnal) is such a hymn. Appropriate to Thanksgiving and set to a familiar folk melody, it skillfully joins worship and ethics.
Each stanza is a litany, with the same response following a series of statements. In stanza one, that response is “Thanks be to God.” The longer lines recall the earth’s fertility; that gifts are given without partiality. And that, though we have labored, God gives the growth.
Stanza two asserts that “God’s will is done” when our thanks is acted out in specific ways. These include paying fair wages (“the just reward of labor”), giving to those around us (“the help we give our neighbor”), dealing compassionately with all in need, and sharing material goods.
The third stanza uses the same repeated phrase as the first, while enlarging our awareness of God’s blessings. The harvests are seen as far more than material. The generosity of God is understood as a common blessing. Finally, the expansive gifts of God are summarized eloquently:
“For the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us, most of all, that love has found us.”
One effective way to use this hymn combines speaking and reading:
Stanza 1: a soloist or choir sings the long lines, the congregation sings the response.
Stanza 2: read in unison.
Stanza 3: sing in unison.
This pattern makes the litany structure apparent, draws attention to actions that express gratitude, and then celebrates, as only community song can do.
This superb text was written by Fred Pratt Green, a British Methodist pastor who became a prolific hymn writer in his retirement. He died on Oct. 22 of this year, a few weeks after his 97th birthday.
His texts frequently link worship and ethics. See also “When the Church of Jesus” and “The Church of Christ in Every Age” (The Baptist Hymnal).
Paul A. Richardson is Professor and Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies in the School of Music at Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, and a member of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church.