One of Manhattans 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 churchs choir of men and boys, modeled on that of Kings College, Cambridge, is made up of boys who attend the residential Saint Thomas Choir School and professional adult singers. On Sunday, March 28Palm Sundaythe 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 prayersthat is, the prayers of intercessionand ended in silence. The purpose of the silence was to signify our need to contemplate Christs Passion as Holy Week began.
Fr. Meads 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 days long passage from Isaiah, the rector identified the readings man of sorrows with Jesus Christ. By plumbing the depths of human suffering and, indeed, becoming sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:2021), 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 Christs Passion, as recorded in St. Matthews narrative, precisely in light of the Resurrection that will follow.
As recounted in all the gospels, the Passion and Resurrection of Christ are to be understood as a war story whose climax is Gods victory for us through a humiliationa 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 victoryif 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 regularand justly famousChoral Evensong held at Saint Thomas every Sunday at 4 p.m. and streamed live on the churchs website. Fr. Meads sermons are also posted on the site as podcasts within a few days of their delivery. On this Palm Sunday morning, the rectors called-for silence was duly observed at services end, at least by most in attendance, and made a fitting counterpoint to the liturgys memorable music.
City: New York
Address: Fifth Avenue at Fifty-Third Street
Main Service: 11 a.m., Sunday
Pastor: The Rev. Andrew C. Mead, O.B.E., D.D., Rector
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