I have set the Lord continually before me because He is at my right hand; I will not be shaken. Psalm 16:8
Over the years, Thanksgiving has meant many wonderful things to me, especially the traditional gathering together of the whole family where the fellowship and love shared was excellent, the food great, and our Thanksgiving prayer memorable. Unfortunately, this year, due to COVID-19, only my wife and I will be enjoying this time together. I don’t think Myrna and I have had a Thanksgiving with just the two of us since we were first married.
There was a favorite hymn we used to sing when gathering around the piano after dinner. It was We Gather Together, which had some great words and beautiful harmony. It expressed several truths about God; one of the most remarkable was that He never forgets His own. A truth worth hanging onto as this pandemic continues to rage across our nation.
There is a story of another who also loved and sang this hymn; it was recorded in the Congressional Record. Evidently, during World War II, a nineteen-year-old G.I. was awarded a medal for single-handedly bringing in a large group of Japanese prisoners.
Here is that story and his response to receiving a medal.
“I want someone to know that I didn’t really deserve this medal, for it happened in this way. I was captured by the Japanese, with five of my pals. We were marched through the jungle with bayonets at our backs. Sad to say, I saw my comrades killed one after the other. In the midst of this I recited the 23rd Psalm and the Lord’s prayer to let my captors know I was not scared of dying. Yet, I trembled from head to foot, marching in mud up to my ankles, with a bayonet sticking in my back.
For whatever reason, I began to whistle the way I used to as a small boy when walking down a dark street in the night. I whistled the old hymn, We Gather Together. Suddenly I became aware that someone had joined me in my whistling; it was the Japanese captor assigned to me! He, too, was whistling the same hymn.
Soon I felt his bayonet retreat from my back. He then walked beside me and said in perfect English, ‘I never cease to wonder at the magnificence of Christian hymns.’ As we walked and talked, he revealed that he had learned English in a mission school. He went on to speak of the war and how Japanese Christians hated it. We both agreed on the power of Christianity and what would happen if people dared to live it. We talked about our families and how we missed them. Finally, at the Japanese soldier’s suggestion, we knelt in the mud and prayed for suffering humanity in the world and for peace.
When we arose, he asked me if I could take him back as a prisoner to the American headquarters. He said that it was the only way to live up to his Christianity, thus helping Japan become a Christian nation. While on the way back, we found in various fox-holes other Japanese Christians, and they too joined us. I shall never forget the hope and joy that came into their eyes as my friend unfolded to them, one by one, how we found each other, and why and where they were being taken. All the way back, we talked of the Christianity.
When we neared the camp, they put on poker-faces and somber looks by mutual agreement, and I, gun in hand, marched them into camp. So you see, I don’t deserve a medal for the most wonderful experience in my life.”
Here at the words to We gather together, it helped make a difference back then in the middle of a terrible war, it can do the same today in the middle of a terrible pandemic.
We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.
Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!
We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!
Happy Thanksgiving, alone with the Lord, with another and the Lord, or able to be with your family and the Lord, happy Thanksgiving.
Story of solder was partially taken from St. Stephen’s Church Bulletin
Song written by Theodore Baker 1894