O Key of David (O Clavis)

The Great O Antiphon for December 20th is O Key of David which reads,

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.

The Old Testament passage from which the name is taken is found in Isaiah 22:20-25 in which the Lord through Isaiah says that he will remove Shebna who is Steward of the Palace of King Hezekiah and replace him with Eliakim. Isaiah states,

“In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house. And they will hang on him the whole honor of his father’s house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons. In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the Lord has spoken.”

The passage from Isaiah is pregnant with significance. The steward who is both the Lord’s servant, who will be a throne of honor, upon whom will hang the honor of his father’s house will be fasted and hang and all that was strong will give way and be cut off.

The image of the King’s keys is taken up again in Matthew’s gospel (Matt 16:19) when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. Here Jesus confers upon the church the authority to proclaim salvation and the forgiveness of sins in his name.

Later, in Revelation. 3:7 Jesus sends word to the church in Philadelphia by the angel who ascribes to Jesus the following title,  “the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens”.

Malcolm Guite through his own writing and speaking about the Antiphons first inspired me and continues to encourage me to look more closely at the resource of the Great O Antiphons. At the end of this talk he talks about the linguistic range of the antiphon’s original Latin. Of particular interest to me is his explanation of the Latin educ and sedentem which are translated “lead” and “dwell” respectively. Good, good stuff.

Here is my own attempt in sonnet form to step into the significance of the One who holds the keys and is himself, the Key of David.

If it is helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player here.

O Key of David, set my bound will free:
Unlock every barred way;
Open the prison in the heart of me;
Lead me into the light of day.
Come to me as the rising sun;
Unclasp with liberating light;
Mount your chariot your courses run
And bring me out of darkest night.
Resentment rusted, my bound heart–
Unable to release the catch.
Your love opens with a locksmith’s art
As tumbled tears let go the latch.
And bid you enter my frozen soul
Filling with freedom, making me whole.

© Randy Edwards 2015
This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks!

artwork: from The Queen Mary Apocalypse, England (London or East Anglia), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal 19 B. xv, f. 38v

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