When I was a youngster my parents always took me to community Thanksgiving services. I was an unwilling and unhappy participant. I didn’t much like them: there weren’t many people there, I didn’t know most of those who were, and I surely didn’t care for the preaching. “Why do we have to attend these things every year?” My mother answered, “Because of the hymns. They’re the best in the book.”
She was right, of course. Karl Barth once said that the basic human response to God is not fear and trembling, not guilt and dread, but thanksgiving. “What else can we say to what God gives us but to stammer praise?” Barth asked. And what better way to stammer than with “Come Ye Thankful People Come,” or “We Gather Together to Ask the Lord’s Blessing” or “Now Thank We All Our God, with Heart and Hand and Voices,” which the late Robert McAfee Brown once said is the best all-purpose hymn, suitable for every important occasion—birth, baptism, wedding, ordination or funeral.