Christ is Made the Sure Foundation

Christ is Made the Sure Foundation

Liturgy Lessons: March 11, 2018 (Fourth Sunday Lent)
Call to Worship: Psalm 46
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Exaltation: All Hail the Power of Jesus Name (#296)
Call to Confession: 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
Agnus Dei – “Jesus, Lamb of God”
Assurance of Pardon: 1 Corinthians 15:50-57
Hymn of Assurance: The Power of the Cross
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Luke 4:14-30
Doxology: #731
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin, “Mercy and Mercy Rejected”
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: Amazing Grace (#460); There is a Redeemer
Closing Hymn: Christ is Made the Sure Foundation (#342)

This past Sunday was the Academy Awards, the high feast day in the International Church of Hollywood. It is the Easter of the Entertainment world. Millions around the world tune in to witness this powerful cultural liturgy that worships a golden statue. It starts with a grand red-carpet processional leading the “chosen” into a theater-tabernacle where they will hear not just one, but many politicized sermons full of righteous rhetoric. Like any good liturgy, it is powerfully formative. Hollywood doesn’t need the Academy Awards in order to evangelize the masses on its vision of the good life, but the catechesis of the Oscars helps. If it were spelled out for us, it might read something like this.

Question 1: What is our only hope in life and death?
That we be true to ourselves, expressing our freedoms in every way possible, in the constant pursuit of personal gain, so as to be happy in this life and celebrated by others after we die.

When this message is preached through the screen by attractive people with powerful charisma, the very notion of what is beautiful gets skewed. Compare the surgically perfected celebrity couple with the man who continues to patiently and steadfastly love his wife of 50 years through advancing Alzheimer’s disease. A historic Christian understanding of beauty is not based on aesthetics, and certainly not dependent on what is currently fashionable.

Our order of worship is formed by a powerful narrative. Each worship service is a sort of a gospel re-enactment, during which, and through which, our imaginations are aroused by the beautiful; our minds are clarified by the true; and our hearts are enraptured with the good. The script of our liturgy is centered on the person who is the very embodiment of these things, and for that reason the story of his death and resurrection is eternally compelling. Christ is beauty, and the cross is the most beautiful symbol of all. This makes the Lord both the subject and object of our praise. He put the breath in our lungs, and we offer it back to him in song.

Question 1: What is our only hope in life and death?
That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

Christ is Made the Sure Foundation
Words: Latin, 7th cent.; tr. by John Mason Neale (1851)
Music: Regent Square, Henry Smart (1867)

John Mason Neale was a 19th-century Anglican Priest and a scholar of Latin and Greek. His love of the Word, along his poetic and linguistic gifts allowed him to produce some of the most emotionally stirring and theologically compelling hymns of his era. Almost all of his hymns are translations of ancient and medieval texts. He was a vintage shopper. If Neale were living today, you would have found him at the consignment store or the antique mall. Neale loved the church, but found her to be limited by an addiction to contemporaneity (sound familiar?). So, in order to move forward, Neale reached back. He would find new expressions of worship within the old letters. Like an archaeologist, he scoured the literary landscape to find buried texts that could be polished and placed as new pillars of praise for the English-speaking church. And so, we have him (actually, the Holy Spirit in him) to thank for timeless texts like Of the Father’s Love Begotten, All Glory Laud and Honor, Good Christian Men, Rejoice, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and many others. All of these hymns could have been lost to the post-Reformation church if it weren’t for Neale’s passionate and careful rendering of them into the vernacular.

Christ is Made the Sure Foundation is typical of Neale’s work. It is originally an ancient Latin hymn, written in the seventh or eighth century. The English translation of this hymn, more than all the others by Neale, reads as a credo of his life’s work. In 1849, Neale wrote:

“Among the most pressing of the inconveniences consequent on the adoption of the vernacular language in the office-books of the Reformation, must be reckoned the immediate disuse of all the hymns of the Western Church. That treasury, into which the saints of every age and country had poured their contributions, delighting, each in his generation, to express their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows, in language which would be the heritage of the church until the end of time–those noble hymns, which had solaced monks in their cells, priests in bearing up against the burden and heat of the day, missionaries in girding themselves for martyrdom–henceforth became as a sealed book and as a dead letter. The Church of England had, then, to wait. She had, as it has well been said, to begin over again.”

May I translate the translator? Basically, Neale is suggesting that, after the Reformation, 15 centuries of gathered song had largely been forgotten or tossed aside by the contemporary Anglican and Protestant churches. Most of it had been stuffed in a box labeled “Catholic” or “Strange Tongue,” and shoved in the back corner of the church’s attic. Neale believed that there was uncorrupted treasure in that rich heritage of hymnody and wanted to hunt for the best. He devoted his days in order that the church might have a more full-orbed library of song, one that was enriched by the voices long past. One of the hymns that captured Neale’s heart was an anonymous poem from the early middle ages. Neale reworked the Latin into this beautiful opening thesis of the Church’s praise:

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.

That second verse is virtuosic, and one of my favorite verses in all of hymnody. It is a sumptuous and skillful summary of what we seek to do every Sunday. Called by the Love of God in Christ, we gather to pour out our hearts in praise to the Triune God. Oh, by the grace of God, may this song be a perpetual outpouring, one that continues eternally.

Laud and honor to the Father, laud and honor to the Son,
Laud and honor to the Spirit, ever Three and ever One,
One in might, and One in glory, while unending ages run.

Scripture References:
Vs. 1 – Eph. 2:19-20; 1 Peter 2:5
Vs. 2 – 1 Cor. 3:16

Sheet music
Piano accompaniment