Generally, during the period from 15 November until 20 December, I have posted meditations (every 5 days or so) on the Great O Antiphons, including the 8thg Antiphon tradition in the Sarum Rite (O Virgo). I have been lax in recent years because Western Advent does not begin on the 15th of November (as it does in the Byzantine Tradition). Nevertheless, I have found myself meditating on the O verses each year. In light of a recent post I made on Facebook, the Problem of Evil seems to be coming to my heart, paired with a comment I overheard in Diaconal Formation. We’ll get to this quote in a bit, but by way of introduction, here’s the text of the post from Facebook, which explains the Crucifix displayed in the header image above. This post seems to have triggered a lot of people. I don’t usually talk about this story, but it was very formative, both for my Faith Journey as well as my emotional journey in my family and my world. It is one sure time I can look at in my life and see a Touch of Evil.
In 1977 or 78 we moved into a house at the north end of town that had an odd attic with a door about 4′ high and a sloping ceiling. Only in the middle of the room could you stand up… This became my bedroom.
On move-in day, as my brother, Jimmy, and I were discussing who would get which bedroom, we saw something silver wedged on the floor under the molding. We both dived at the glint! It was this crucifix. He had no use for anything religious and, even though we were not Catholic, I kept it in my treasures as a kid does.
In 1981 or so, my friend, Brian, had no gift to give his sister, Michelle, for her birthday. That family was Catholic and he asked me if he could give the cross to her. So he added a chain of his own and it became her birthday present. She was murdered a year or so later, and Brian kept this on his dresser in his room… Which is where I found it in May of 1983 after he and Jimmy had been killed in a motorcycle accident. Brian’s mother let me keep it and so I still have it and wear it.
It’s been here for a while now, but it seems good to tell the story today. Pray for Jimmy, Brian, and Michelle.
Michelle’s murder (I left off a key word there on purpose) in her own home, let the reader understand, and then her brother’s death, together with my brother, only a year later surpasses all other things in my life as truly evil. As if someone wanted to put a punctuation on the event, the headline in our local paper, in the wee hours after the motorcycle accident, announced the conviction by jury of Michelle’s murderer in very large type. Our town, which had previously been one of those places where doors were never locked, where cars were left running while you dashed inside for errands, and where children would sleigh ride into streets firm in the knowledge that cars would stop suddenly changed that year. Evil had touched us.
And so, Advent, which always carries a hint of Apocalypse, comes to me today along with a quote: “Jesus came to save souls, not the politics…” and I only wish it was that easy.
While it is a commonplace to say the Jews were expecting a different Messiah (different from Jesus) it is also an oversimplification. There had developed in some traditions of Judaism an expectation of two Messiahs: a reigning King who would restore the empire and Jewish freedom from oppression called “Messiah ben David” and a suffering servant, who would be more of a spiritual savior, called “Messiah be Yosef”. The “plot twist” if you will, for the Jesus Story is that Jesus, the suffering servant, was the son of David. He had no plans for empire at all. “Regnum meum non est de hoc mundo. ” My kingdom is not of this world, he said to Pilate. Jews rejecting Jesus as the Messiah did so not only because he was different from what was expected, but because he was from the wrong tribe for what he was.
This did not stop the early Church – Jews and Gentiles – from making precisely political claims about this backwater itinerant preacher. “Jesus is Lord” is a rip-off from “Caesar is Lord”. The “Evangelion” is what the empire sends to a town to announce they’ve been conquered. “Good news! You have a new king…” Jesus is God, not Caesar. Literally, “There is no God, but God, and he’s this Jewish guy you tried to kill. By the way, Christ is Risen!” There’s a reason the Romans thought Christians were trouble and it’s not theology or soteriology – it’s politics and economics. Which exactly are theology and soteriology as everyone knew then. Even the Great O Antiphons themselves are political claims, as well as economic, theological, and soteriological ones.
So this Advent, as I post on my own erratic schedule to meditate on the Great O antiphons, I will think about Evil and Politics.
By way of introduction and comment on the Antiphons themselves, they are used in Vespers (Evening Prayer) in the last few days before Christmas. The Tradition ones are:
– O Wisdom (in Latin, Sapientia)
– O Adonai (Adonai)
– O Root of Jesse (Radix Iesse)
– O Key of David (Clavis David)
– O Sunrise or Dayspring (Oriens)
– O King (Rex)
– O Emmanuel (Emmanuel)
The Latin words form an acrostic in reverse: Ero Cras. It means “tomorrow I will be there.” This formulation is rather late, though, and limited to Rome. There were other “Great O’s” in other liturgical traditions such as “O Jerusalem”, “O Joseph”, and “O Queen of the World”. The tradition of the Sarum rite, which is now used in the Anglican Ordinariates, includes the verse “O Virgo” as well. This makes the acrostic Vero Cras, meaning Truly Tomorrow.
It may not be tomorrow, but I will post on all of the antiphons between now and Christmas Eve. Let us pray for each other as we make the journey this Advent.