As a teenager, Henry Purcell tuned the organ at Westminster Abbey. He was organist there from 1679 until his death in 1695. Purcell composed many vocal and instrumental works, music for theatrical productions, and the opera
Dido and Aeneas
(1689). Most of his career was spent in the service of the British royal family. The high esteem in which he was held is evident from his grave marker next to the organ in Westminster Abbey: “Here lyes Henry Purcell, Esq.: who left this life, and is gone to that blessed place where only his harmony can be exceeded.”
Although “Christ is made the sure foundation” hints at several scriptural passages, the main theme comes from 1 Peter 2:6, “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” This reminds us that we who are baptized are living stones, and we are all united to Christ the living stone. 1 Corinthians 3:11, Ephesians 2:20-22, and Revelation 21:2 are other Biblical sources for the hymn text. It’s important to note that the “temple” in stanza three is not the church building but the people in whose hearts Christ lives.
On these Sunday mornings when our church building is nearly empty, we still sing and rejoice that the Holy Spirit calls us together as one Church, one people held firmly in God’s loving embrace, one family redeemed through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and living in his resurrection light. During the turmoil which we are experiencing in 2020, stanza one of the hymn reassures us that Christ is our “help forever” and our “confidence alone.” Now there is a message to cling to no matter what the world hurls at us.
Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone,
Chosen of the Lord, and precious, binding all the Church in one;
Holy Zion’s help forever, and her confidence alone.
All that dedicated city, dearly loved of God on high,
In exultant jubilation pours perpetual melody;
God the One in Three adoring in glad hymns eternally.
To this temple, where we call thee, come, O Lord of Hosts, today;
With thy wonted loving kindness hear thy servants as they pray,
And thy fullest benediction shed within its walls alway.
Here vouchsafe to all thy servants what they ask of thee to gain;
What they gain from thee, forever with the blessed to retain,
And hereafter in thy glory evermore with thee to reign.