Rector’s Chronicle: Lent 2014

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

Lent, the season of preparation for Easter, is upon us. Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Day, including every day in between, is the heart of the Christian Year, because it sets forth those mighty acts whereby God has redeemed us through Jesus Christ. These acts – Jesus’s Last Supper, Arrest, Trial, and Passion, his Death and Burial, and his Resurrection on the Third Day – are called the Paschal Mystery. Paschal means Passover and here refers not only to the Exodus of God’s People Israel from bondage in Egypt, but also to the Lord’s Passover from Death to Resurrection and the deliverance of believers from their deadly bondage to sin into freedom and eternal life.

As ever, I urge you to take the fullest part you can in the rites and ceremonies of Holy Week. This year, yours truly will preach for the Triduum, the Great Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. For the Three Hour Service on Good Friday beginning at 12 noon, Fathers Austin, Spurlock and Daniels will share with me the addresses of the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross.

CENTENNIAL HYMNS

Last fall at the Centennial Hymn-sing, the research of Douglas Robbe and our archivists showed that the hymns sung at Christmas a century ago are unknown to us today. See my Rector’s Chronicle for this past December, with an explanation for the differences over the hundred years. Now again the same difference holds for Holy Week and Easter. The hymns we cherish were not known a century ago at Saint Thomas. Why? Because the twentieth century was a most fruitful era of liturgical renewal, especially the rediscovery of liturgies and ceremonies, music and hymnody from earlier ages of the Church, together with the composition of hymns to meet the needs of those liturgies. The era of Dr. Stires at Saint Thomas was wondrous in many ways. His dynamic leadership and the parish’s response, culminating in our glorious Church building, is the crowning example. Nevertheless, the liturgy and music we now enjoy go a much longer way in living up to the building than did the liturgies and music when the church was first built. I cannot help feeling that Dr. Stires himself would say Amen – especially if he saw his great-great grandson, a recent choirboy, ably swinging a censer at a Festal Eucharist or Evensong.

SPEAKING OF DR. STIRES

One of the best and most enjoyable events of recent memory, certainly the centerpiece of our Centennial observances, was Lucky Gold’s play, Redeem the Time, on Friday night, February 21, attended by nearly 200 people and followed by a jolly reception. Historically accurate, the play provided an exercise in self-understanding for the parish community, both for the Centennial and for the present day. I commissioned Lucky to do the play well over a year ago. As Lucky himself explained, he struggled with the script until my retirement announcement last June, which provided him with the structure: Dr. Stires’ departure to be Bishop of Long Island with flashbacks over 24 years of his rectorship at Saint Thomas. A handsome edition of the script is available in the bookstore, and the proceeds go to the organ fund. Speaking as the actor who read the lines of Dr. Stires, I found a deep sympathy with and for a distinguished predecessor I have admired since I first learned about his ministry.

SPEAKING OF PLAYS

I need to take a glance back also at our Sunday School Christmas Pageant, which was a Medieval Mystery Play adapted to our purposes. Here Father Spurlock wins my admiration for giving us a text in which God himself is the narrator. God tells his own story. All the actors are there as usual: Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, the animals. But to have the Voice of the Lord (Father Spurlock’s) coming from an unseen position made quite an impact. The sun and moon descending from the vaulting weren’t bad either. Bravo, Sunday School.

HATS ET AL.

As many of you will realize, the Meads are downsizing. The Rectory apartment at 550 Park Avenue has many closets, and Nancy Mead uses all of them, except for the one I use. Filled they are with coats, evening gowns, suits, jackets, dresses and – hats. The hats, long her trademark, also occupy, in wonderful boxes stacked to seven feet, a whole corner or so of a bedroom. After 40 years both in the fashion business and as a First Lady of the Church, she has needed all these closets; but no longer. When we move to our little house in Narragansett, RI, we will share one closet!

Therefore, on Laetare Sunday, March 30, in Andrew Hall following the 11 am Festal Eucharist, Nancy’s hats, gowns, and other paraphernalia will be on offer at an auction/tag sale to benefit the campaign for the new organ. Come one, come all.

THE NEW ORGAN HAS A NAME

Following an agreement dating back to 2008, our largest donor to the organ has the naming opportunity for the new instrument. It is to be THE IRENE D. AND WILLIAM R. MILLER CHANCEL ORGAN IN HONOR OF DR. JOHN SCOTT. When the new organ is installed, Deo volente, in 2018, the name and year of completion will be cut into the pillar nearby the inscription for the old Arents organ which it succeeds.

William R. Miller CBE has been my Music Lion going all the way back to the 2004 call to John Scott to be our Director of Music. His donations far exceed his very generous financial gifts and commitments. Recently I wrote to Bill, “Your impetus and energy, your encouragement on so many fronts, your perseverance and patient impatience, all have been critical in the doing [of this great project]. May the Lord, who is moving this great mountain, bless you and Irene and your family.” Please join your Amen to this prayer of thanks.

BUY A PIPE

My last fund raising hurrah at Saint Thomas, the Buy-a-Pipe campaign, has just been launched. Thanks to Ann Kaplan and the Ad Hoc Organ Committee chaired by Bill Miller for the most attractive brochure, which has been sent out and is also available at church in the narthex and at the front desk. Buy-a-Pipe is our effort to bring in everyone as we enter into a new phase of the Organ – namely its construction by the Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa. The Vestry has contracted with Dobson for final design of the new south case and all the internal workings. More details on the Buy-a-Pipe campaign are on the website, and I have sent letters to the parish encouraging participation. I hope you will join in. Whether you give enough to “buy” a virtual pipe the size of a pencil or the size of an elevator, a fife or a tuba, you’ll have some ownership of this glorious instrument.

A BOOK OF SERMONS

With the editorial support of Heather Cross and others, I have gathered a collection of my sermons over my time at Saint Thomas for publication. The book should be available before the end of May. My goal is to have these sermons cover the whole round of the Christian Year. Some are stories, some are biblical exposition, and some are church doctrine. Almost all are available on the website. A very few are occasional. All, I trust, set forth the Gospel of Jesus. They average between 900 to 1,200 words per homily, which is about nine to twelve minutes in length – I have increasingly come to favor shorter preachments, to believe that less is more, and that often the best way to finish a sermon is simply to stop. I also believe that the sermon regularly must be an integral part of the liturgy, the proclamation of the Word within the Eucharist, inextricably connected to the subsequent consecration and reception of Holy Communion.

I also believe, and have since my seminary days, that clergy are ordained to deliver the Gospel and the catholic, apostolic Faith of the Church. Over the 40-plus years since then, three general abuses of the pulpit in churches have come in successive waves: 1) using the sermon to advance a political agenda; 2) using the sermon to engage in psycho-babble; and, more recently, 3) using the sermon to focus on the person of the preacher. Of course the Gospel often touches upon politics, or psychology, or the personal life of the homilist; and these can be useful introductions to the Gospel. But the subject is the Good News of JESUS. The Apostle has it, as ever, just right: “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.”[1] It is my hope that my teaching and preaching over two decades here has revolved, with the Christian Year, around the life-saving mystery who is Jesus Christ our Lord and God, and that Christ’s Gospel has been duly heard and received.

BOOK REPORTS

More than a few of you say to me, what’s a Rector’s Chronicle without a book report? Well, I have a few from my post-Christmas break. First, Anthony Trollope wrote a fascinating long essay, Clergymen of the Church of England, which is available on Kindle or through Amazon. It has a sparkling introduction by Michael Mayne, sometime Dean of Westminster Abbey, now deceased, who preached at Saint Thomas in my first few years. Trollope covers Deans, Bishops, Country Parsons, Town Incumbents and others in Holy Orders, with a splendid last chapter on the Liberals. It is like an extended essay in The New Yorker. Next, I read Tolstoy’s Resurrection, a powerful, often shattering epic on crime and punishment, radically challenging the very notion of human justice, law and order. Though it provoked Tolstoy’s excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church for his portrayal of a church service, it nonetheless is one of the most profoundly Christian novels I have read, worthy to be set side by side with Dostoyevsky’s great novel, Crime and Punishment. Finally, speaking of Christian novels, read Mr. Ives’ Christmas by recently deceased New York City author Oscar Hijuelos. Father Austin’s class on good books read it some years ago, but I have only now caught up. It is about two parents’ response to the death of their beloved son in a random act of street violence, and is simply superb. Let me attest: in the end, God shows up.

And with that last statement, let us, in response to God’s showing up on our behalf in the Person of Jesus in Holy Week and Easter, prepare for his coming in this holy season of Lent.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,

Andrew C. Mead

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[1] II Corinthians 4:5.