The Account of Pastor Martin Rinkart
Martin Rinkart was a Lutheran pastor who ministered in Eilenburg, Saxony during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). This devastating conflict ravaged entire regions, caused unrelenting famine and bankrupted most of the combatant powers. Famine and plague threatened almost all of Europe.
Eilenburg saw a steady stream of refugees pour into the city for three decades, overwhelming the city’s meager resources. Eight hundred homes in Eilenburg were destroyed in the fighting. The pastors of the city were under enormous strain, conducting multiple funerals daily while trying to minister to survivors.
The Year of the Great Pestilence (1637) saw every pastor in the city except Rinkart succumb to the horrific conditions. As the sole surviving clergyman in Eilenburg, it fell upon Rinkart to conduct funeral services for up to 50 people per day. In May of that terrible year, Rinkart’s own wife died.
How did Pastor Rinkart keep his faith and his sanity? He refused to be defined by his circumstances. He determined to focus, not on his circumstances, but on the unchanging character of a merciful God. If we put our foundation on any “rock” that can potentially be removed, we will be insecure and prone to feelings of victimization and bitterness. But if we build on the Rock of Christ Jesus, our foundation will hold fast.
Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:24 "Everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."
Set against the bleak backdrop of a protracted war, economic collapse, and his own city’s devastation, Martin Rinkart penned these words for his children after the funeral of his wife as a prayer of thanksgiving:
"Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom His world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still are 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 in His grace, and guide us when perplexed
And free us from all ills in this world and the next.
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."
A Note on Communion Ware and Hygiene
The use of the chalice (or “common cup”) was once universal in Lutheranism but in the last century its use has changed. One of the reasons for supplementing it with “individual glasses” was a concern about hygiene. Also as a concern in regard to various viruses (HIV, coronavirus, etc.) some have even proposed eliminating the use of the chalice, which is unfounded.
Dr. Thomas Welch, a New York dentist as well as a Methodist minister, was a devout prohibitionist (against alcohol) during the temperance movement. In 1869 he adapted Louis Pasteur’s 1862 process for killing bacteria in milk to halt the natural process of fermentation in grape juice. Without refrigeration, grape juice could now be kept for prolonged periods without becoming alcoholic. For the first twenty years of making his “Unfermented Wine”, Dr. Welch sold his product exclusively to churches.
At the same time in history, Joseph Lister (in 1879 Listerine mouthwash was named after him for his work in antisepsis) was instrumental in developing practical applications of the germ theory of disease. With outbreaks of diphtheria and tuberculosis common and the new understanding of microorganisms as a cause for diseases, American “sanitarians” sought to reform the 1900-year-old practice of dozens, if not hundreds of people drinking from a common chalice during Holy Communion.
The first churches to promote the use of “individual cups” were those of Presbyterian, Baptist, Congregational, and Episcopalian denominations, for hygienic reasons—though no disease contraction had been linked to the use of a common communion chalice with wine. With the use of grape juice, though, it was feared that without the alcoholic content, there might be more of a chance of germs being passed from person to person.
By the mid 1900’s, Lutheran churches, influenced by the concerns over hygiene and spurred on by American pragmatism, were slowly beginning to adopt the practice of using Individual Cups, so that, by the late 1980’s (with news of AIDS in America), most Lutheran churches were at least using individual cups as an option alongside the common cup.
Even today, people believe (mistakenly) that germs are easily transmitted by using the chalice. However, the combination of the noble metal of the chalice (such as gold or silver) and the alcohol content of the wine makes the possibility for germs to be transmitted almost nonexistent. Consider the following article which explains this further:
“Can I get sick from using the common cup? No! The use of the common cup was traditional in all Christian churches until this [past] century and was eliminated because of fears about sanitary matters concerning the transmission of disease. The question about disease transmission is answered best by the scientific community. A thorough study on the use of the common cup was done by professors Burroughs and Hemmers in 1965 and was reported in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Their conclusion was:
Experiments on the transmission of organisms from one person to another by common use of the chalice showed that 0.001% of the organisms transferred even under the most favorable conditions and when conditions approximated those of actual use, no transmission could be detected.
Concerns about the transmission of AIDS confirm this study. Dr. David Ho in the New England Journal of Medicine (December 1985) provided documentation that verified that there was no spread of the AIDS virus in saliva through common eating or drinking utensils. In effect, AIDS is spread only through sexual contact or the exchange of blood. No case of AIDS victims studied to date has shown any possibility of communicating the disease through saliva. Concerns about the chalice and AIDS are motivated more by fear than by scientific research, since no scientific research exists to connect the two….
Lutherans should remember that Martin Luther restored the cup when Roman Catholics had all but eliminated it from the people’s communion. He did it because his loyalty was to the command of Christ in the Bible. The use of the common cup was normative until the late nineteenth century and was eliminated in those churches in which Communion was not understood as being the Body and Blood of Christ.”
 “The Common Cup and Disease,” reprinted from The Bride of Christ, vol XII, no. 3, © 1988 by Lutheran Liturgical Renewal, Inc.