O Come, O Come: Root of Jesse and Key of David

Root of Jesse

This week’s installation in the Grace Gallery exhibit, “O Come, O Come…” comprise two antiphons. They are O Root of Jesse (Radix) and O Key of David (Clavis).

As I mentioned before, as these antiphons progress, they become more specific and pointed in their promise. The prophets of the Old Testament speak of a “tender shoot” or a “branch” which will rise from the stump of Jesse. Jesse was King David’s father. Because of Israel’s faithlessness and especially because of the faithlessness of her kings, the promises made to David that his dynasty would be an everlasting dynasty seem to have failed. The line of David as seen by the prophets through the lens of the exiles has been “cut off” or “cut down.” Yet, though Israel and her kings were faithless, the Lord in his promise to David is faithful. Like those trees which have been copsed, a new branch will rise from the root stock.

Below is artist, Jennifer Edwards’ piece “O Root of Jesse.” She has taken her inspiration from the biblical passages as well as the sonnet below which you may hear read via the Soundcloud player by her father, Ed Pilkington. Read, listen, and look. In considering this promise, ask yourself, in what places in your life do need new life to spring?

"O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer."
There is nothing so hopeless as a tree’s
Stump whose root has been lopped of limbs and green,
Cut down, lying lifeless, without its leaves;
Lament hangs on — only sorrow clings.

O Root of Jesse, the promised stump which
Buds righteousness: our mercy, joy, and peace,
Who makes the poor, the meek, those hungry, rich—
The despised, exiled, cut off, counted least.

O how may hope rise from this lifeless wood,
This gallows tree, this cursed cross raised above
Which hangs with despair? Certainly no good
Could spring from death, could sing what wondrous love.

Come Root of Jesse, deliver and bring
The peace for which the nations long and sing.

Key of David

The next antiphon is O Key of David. Growing more specific, this antiphon points to one who will hold and use the Key of David. This key is first alluded to in Isaiah 22 regarding the demotion and promotion of a Steward of the king’s house in Jerusalem. This image is taken up by the apostle John in Revelation 3 in the letter to the Philadelphians. The Son of Man about whom the angel speaks, holds the Key of David. The angel says that what the Holy One opens no one can shut and what he shuts, no one can open. Artist Timothy Bay has drawn this piece in response the Antiphon’s text and the poem below.

It seems to me that John Bunyan draws from this image in Pilgrim’s Progress. In the story, Christian and Hopeful have wandered onto to the lands of Giant Despair and his wife Diffidence. Imprisoned in Doubting Castle, Christian and Hopeful are beaten and abused by this giant. But as is the way of grace, there is a sudden breakthrough. Bunyan writes,

 Now, a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out into this passionate speech: What a fool, quoth he, am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle. Then said Hopeful, That is good news; good brother, pluck it out of thy bosom, and try.

Taking the key out of pocket in his coat which happens to be over his heart, Christian tries the lock. It opens and this key unlocks every other lock. Hereby Christian and Hopeful escape Doubting Castle’s dungeons and the oppression of Giant Despair and his wife.

Here’s Timothy’s drawing followed by the text of the poem. As with the others, you may listen to the poem masterfully read by my father-in-law, Ed Pilkington below. As you listen, consider what doors you need the Lord to open for you in your life? Have you opened your heart to him? Has he led you out of the prison house?

”O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”
O Key of David, set my bound will free;
Unlock the door that I may walk your way—
Joyful, resolved, with bright alacrity
And step from the shadows out into day.

Rise! Mount your chariot, in your course run,
Rain down truth, pierce with your arrows of light;
Shine bright O Clavis, as the noonday sun!
Deliver me from death, dis-spell the night.

For resentment has rusted my hard heart--
The broken spring will not free the latch;
Use your key to loose, use your locksmith’s art
To turn the bolt, spring the pins, free the catch.

Lo, I see a door hung, see his pierced side,
And ent'ring my heart, the Key turns, abides.

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