‘Christ is made the sure foundation’ was sung on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, since it draws upon the passage from I Peter 2 read then; we sing it again this week in conjunction with Sunday’s fine Collect, which makes use of that same Epistle:
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you.
Our Gospel reading continues our journey through Matthew, specifically Our Lord’s instructions to his apostles (which means ‘missionaries’, that is, ‘those sent out’). Though the instruction to take up one’s cross comes from last week’s portion, the hymn ‘Take up your cross, the Savior said’ is nevertheless appropriate as we continue to contemplate our individual and corporate missions in this season. The original form of the text was written by a nineteen-year-old poet who later became an Episcopal priest, though it has (like most hymns, and in this case to its advantage) been revised over the years. The text gains considerable force by its pairing with the very strong tune ‘Bourbon’, which first appeared in a songbook published in 1814 in Pittsburgh. The tune, though attributable to the book’s compiler, draws largely, and effectively, upon folk tradition: it uses only five notes of the scale – a feature very common to vernacular music around the world – and its vigorous short-short-long-long rhythm reminds one of a work-song. If the members of the Church together constitute the Temple of God, nevertheless Christ’s instructions to the apostles, and perhaps this hymn and its tune, remind us that there is a whole heavenly Kingdom to discover, and much work to be done in it.