|This hymn is often used during services for the dedication of church buildings, but it has nothing to do with churches built of brick and stone. It talks instead about “the Church,” which is built of flesh and bone. The church, you see, is not a building where we come to worship. We are the church—you and I—the people of God.
The first verse of this hymn talks about Christ as the foundation and the cornerstone of the church. This is language from the New Testament (Eph. 2:19-20; 1 Peter 2:5). Christ is the foundation and cornerstone of the church. Christ is the foundation and cornerstone of our lives.
The second verse (or third verse—check your hymnal) speaks of us as a temple, which is also New Testament language (1 Cor. 3:16). We, the church, are God’s temple—the place where God dwells—and this hymn asks God to “Shed within its walls alway”—which is another way of saying, “Dwell within us always.”
In the last verse, the hymn reminds us that we will live with God forevermore.
This is an ancient Latin hymn, written in the seventh or eighth century. It was translated into English by John Mason Neale, a 19th century Anglican clergyman and Latin scholar. Neale was an unlikely man to do anything significant. As a young man, health problems caused him to leave active service as a clergyman, and he became the administrator for a home for elderly people. When he tried to revitalize the chapel services there, he was rebuked by the bishop and forbidden to conduct services. When he tried to simplify funeral services, he provoked a riot that required police to bring the mob under control. He clearly lacked the common touch.
Nevertheless, Neale labored long and happily in his study—poring over old, musty Latin documents—and was therefore able to give us such hymns as “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” —and “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”—and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”—and a host of others. He reminds us once again that God often chooses unlikely people to be the vehicles for his blessings.
Copyright 2007, Richard Niell Donovan