Saint Thomas Church One of Manhattan’s most illustrious Episcopal congregations, Saint Thomas Church is best known for its glorious liturgical music and the stunning architecture of its 1913 church building, in French High Gothic style, on Fifth Avenue at Fifty-Third Street. The church’s choir of men and boys, modeled on that of King’s College, Cambridge, is made up of boys who attend the residential Saint Thomas Choir School and professional adult singers. On Sunday, March 28—Palm Sunday—the musical highlight was Orlandus Lassus’ exquisite Tristis est anima mea , which was sung as the offertory motet.

Because it was Palm Sunday, the 11 a.m. service differed from the norm. It began with an elaborate procession that included children; a gospel reading; and the blessing of palms. And, as the rector, Fr. Andrew Mead, noted in his sermon, the Solemn Eucharist of the Passion that followed omitted the usual bidding prayers—that is, the prayers of intercession—and ended in silence. The purpose of the silence was to signify our need to contemplate Christ’s Passion as Holy Week began.

Fr. Mead’s sermon was shorter than usual because of the unusual length of the service, but his message was as rich in traditional doctrine and practical spirituality as his sermons always are. Referring to the day’s long passage from Isaiah, the rector identified the reading’s “man of sorrows” with Jesus Christ. By “plumbing the depths of human suffering” and, indeed, “becoming sin” for us (2 Corinthians 5:20–21), Jesus is present for us as a “savior for all seasons” who releases us from bondage to our fallenness. For that reason, we remember the ugly details of Christ’s Passion, as recorded in St. Matthew’s narrative, precisely in light of the Resurrection that will follow.

Saint Thomas Church - Interior As recounted in all the gospels, the Passion and Resurrection of Christ are to be understood as a “war story” whose climax is God’s victory for us through a humiliation—a humiliation that, although very real, only appears to be an abject defeat. This story, said Fr. Mead, is one of salvation available to all: Jesus’ body was broken and transformed precisely for each of us, as individuals; and each of us is called to detect and emulate that pattern in his or her own life. The rector invited the congregants to “lay down their burdens” at the Eucharistic table and “leave them there,” in the knowledge that the divine love and grace so apparent on Golgotha can make those burdens that each of us bear occasions of transformation and victory—if we will but let God in.

As at other churches with a relatively “high church” liturgy, the size of the congregation was larger than the Sunday norm. What was unusual was the combination of beauty and solemnity with joy and pastoral concern. This is also apparent at the regular—and justly famous—Choral Evensong held at Saint Thomas every Sunday at 4 p.m. and streamed live on the church’s website. Fr. Mead’s sermons are also posted on the site as podcasts within a few days of their delivery. On this Palm Sunday morning, the rector’s called-for silence was duly observed at service’s end, at least by most in attendance, and made a fitting counterpoint to the liturgy’s memorable music.

Information :
City: New York
Borough: Manhattan
Address: Fifth Avenue at Fifty-Third Street
Phone: 212-664-9360
Website: www.saintthomaschurch.org
Religion: Christian
Denomination: Episcopal
Main Service: 11 a.m., Sunday
Pastor: The Rev. Andrew C. Mead, O.B.E., D.D., Rector

Articles by Michael Liccione

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