O Clavis


O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit, claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel, you open, and no one shuts, you shut, and no one opens: come, and lead the prisoner from jail, seated in darkness and in the shadow of death.
The Key of David opens the Gate of Heaven and Hell, it is the Key of Peter. It’s the sign Jesus gave to the 12 Apostles of the Authority of the Church to name his forgiveness before the world. Yet as the Key of David, it is Christ, himself. 
Beyond our usual sins, what holds us back is the realisation that we have sinned against others. There is no sin which is open-ended: every sin is a damaged relationship. There is no sin which is against myself, alone: there must always be another party. Indeed, in the New Creation, there is no sin that is “simply” against God: all sins damage a real, personal relationship between us and others – God included. When I fail to love God, I’m not loving my neighbour and vice versa. My sin damages the net of relationships that is drawing us all to heaven. Every sin is like the Original Sin.
When we take an inventory of our deeds, as we did in yesterday’s post, and find the deeds wanting we may still be trapped in sorrow and guilt because we realise: we have damaged relationships with other people.

One of the most moving things ever to happen to me was a phone call at 8AM in the morning from a person I’d not seen in several years. He had called, however, months before to rant and rave about some mutual enemies, to berate our choices and to lament our loss of connection. In those days you could find someone’s number after a few years by calling 411 and just asking. It was a disturbing phone call to get:he was angry and hurt and I was someone he could talk to, I guess. To be honest, as much as I missed my friend, I was happy when the call was over. But the second phone call, at 8AM was a bit of a surprise. He announced, without knowing who I was, that the previous phone call was made when he was drunk, and that he was calling me because my number was on his phone bill from that time period. Who was I and would I forgive him?

He was dealing with Step 8 and 9…

  • 8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. 
  • 9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 
  • 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. 

Sins are interpersonal. No matter how many times we go to confession, it is the interpersonal that matters.

When I left the Episcopal Church for Orthodoxy, I spent a good deal of time berating my former home until one day Bishop Seraphim told me to stop. He reminded me that those people loved me. They had done nothing wrong to me and, in fact, had led me to the next phase of my journey. Vladyka said to me, “There is grace before and behind.”

And I knew that I had to go and ask forgiveness. I called a friend and asked him to lunch and asked forgiveness of him – and of the community.

At another time, in my early twenties, I confessed shoplifting to a priest who asked me to return the items shoplifted…

It’s not that you have to do something in order to be forgiven. It’s that you have to live the forgiveness. Step 8 says “become willing to make amends” and Step 9 says we have to make amends “wherever possible” unless to do so would only further damage the relationship. You know places like that, no? Things that we needn’t bring up anymore… sins that to bring up would only make a greater harm. We’ve seen this in the child abuse scandals in other churches where to bring up the sins of the past is to relive them and damage others. We’ve seen it in South Africa, where Abp Tutu’s grace-filled Truth and Reconciliation committees only required that one say the truth… no matter how hard it was.

Christianity puts us in an odd place because it’s not about revenge, it’s not about “mking sure you get yours”, it’s about healing relationships.

So we must move forward – not backwards.

The key of David unlocks the doors forward and closes the doors to the past. We’re called to move forward, out of darkness. Jesus leads us, too. We’re able to lean on him to find the courage and the love to do these things.

Step 10 points out the crucial thing, though: we have to keep doing them. The Key of David, the Gate of Heaven and Hell, is the “Key of Peter”. It’s the sign Jesus gave to the 12 Apostles of the Authority of the Church to name his forgiveness before the world. And the way to do that is confession. Jesus is the Key… and he shared his authority with the Church, via the Apostolic Succession. Your priest wields that authority. “I absolve you in the name…” it is Christ, himself, speaking to you out of the darkness.

And having done so, we need to keep confession going. Confession is not a once and once only action: it is an on-going process of life reform. It is appropriate in Advent to take time out for a life exam and a sacramental confession, but, again, Advent is not a time of the year so much as it is a symbol. And so we are reminded now that confession is always. We must appeal to the Key of David for the grace to move forward.

And he gives it.

The Cloud of Unwilling to be Told

Today’s Readings:

  • Isaiah 7:10-14
  • Luke 1:26-38

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other mass texts.

O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness!

The full text of the Antiphon is:

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;qui aperis, et nemo claudit;claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
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.

It’s very hard to read something about keys and not think about heaven and hell, and indeed we have that here: Messiah unlocking hell, and bringing souls to heaven. Freeing us from death and bringing us to life. This Antiphon is one of a pair (with tomorrow’s) speaking of darkness and light. I shall take the liberty of reading this one as more concerned with darkness since tomorrow we think about the Dawn (Oriens).

Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!” 

What is our darkness? I’ve pointed snarkily at it several times in the recent course of these posts: we love the idea of God but we reject any God who dares speak.

We have a two-thousand year tradition, and some want to imagine that they can toss it out because of modern “gender” politics; a 4000 year old morality (that is widely accepted around the world in various traditions) and people want to toss it out because sex is fun. All that’s fine, if you want to play by your own rules, sure. But if you want to follow the God with the keys of heaven and hell, he’s already told you what to do. We are blessed to have a God that speaks clearly through his Church – as he promised he would – and most of us want to pretend God is only mute now, and never spoke before, or, if he did, it was only good for a short time. We have erected an artificial cloud of unknowing that keeps us in our own self-enforced darkness. We say in our pretend piety that excuses our sins, we dare not lie about God by using outdated ideas. Yet we dare to lie about God using our own modern lies that are only as new as Diagoras of Melos and Heraclitus.

In our false piety we claim to be really following God because we won’t let dead people put words in God’s mouth – when, in fact, it was he putting words in theirs. We won’t let old rituals keep God in a box, when, in fact, he inspired both the text and the rubrics to help us follow him. We won’t let ancient cultures rule ours, when, in fact, he ruled them – and would rule us as well. But we don’t like kings. We have blinded God by locking our eyes shut, we have silenced God by destroying our ears, we have killed God by ending life as we know it. We have ended His story only by insisting that history is meaningless and that all events are disconnected; that life just ends and stops. Today things are different, we say, as we turn out all the lights, and clang the prison doors shut behind us. We’re safe in here. He can’t come and get us. We’re safe, we say, from God in the Prison Satan has built for us, deluding us into imagining we want to be here.

I’ve heard the Resurrection joyfully denied at Easter, the Virgin Birth merrily denied at Christmas, the Divinity of Christ piously denied from the pulpit, the Second Coming of Christ denied on Good Friday – all by people who say they are Christians. I have no idea what the point even is any more, in that idea of “religion” except to damn souls to hell.

They have returned to what the world is: our mission field. Darkness waiting to be illumined.

Jesus comes with the Keys to unlock what can never be locked again. And to lock up what can never be unlocked. When we turn to him, he can free our minds from the prison we have built from bricks that we have baked using clay and straw we ourselves have gathered. And with Jesus – only – we can free the world.

O Key – 4th Advent Meditation

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit, claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel, you open, and no one shuts, you shut, and no one opens: come, and lead the prisoner from jail, seated in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Jesus’ Advent is rather both like and unlike Prometheus bringing fire: it’s not enough that he has fire, he has to bring it to all of us. We must become fire.  What, exactly are you imprisoned by? The verse says “darkness and shadow of death”.  Let us set aside “shadow of death” for a moment… but St Paul has some stuff to say about “darkness” in his Epistle to the Ephesians:

But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks. For know you this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean, or covetous person (which is a serving of idols), hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words. For because of these things cometh the anger of God upon the children of unbelief. Be ye not therefore partakers with them. For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light. For the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and justice, and truth; Proving what is well pleasing to God: And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For the things that are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of. But all things that are reproved, are made manifest by the light; for all that is made manifest is light.  

Ephesians 5:3-13

Even writing to the saints of God, he admits that “you were heretofore darkness”  something has happened, however, and the Ephesians are “now light in the Lord.”   Nunc autem lux. – You are now light.  In the Sermon on the mount, Jesus says, Vos estis lux mundi. “You are the light of the world.”

We do however, have a painful ministry: the purpose of light is to illuminate the darkness.

Tim Tebow, a professional football player, is getting a lot of press lately: his girlfriend broke up with him because he won’t have sex with her prior to marriage. That’s shining a light on the darkness and it’s bothering people: so they are making fun of him for not committing fornication with Miss Universe.  This is the second girl to dump him for this reason, the last one being a Children’s TV star.

I wish I had learned that lesson in my teens… I might not still be struggling with becoming an adult now. We’re imprisoned in darkness.  The thing about darkness is you can’t see how bad it all is.  When someone comes along and shines a light on it, you’ve got a choice to make: step away or yell at the light-bringer.

O come, thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Sex, however, is easy to point at and too expected: we’re surrounded by darkness.  Abortion, war, suicide, guns, violence, slow destruction by drugs and alcohol, TV shows and computer games that glorify killing – but even that’s too easy.  Our comedy is dark: making just fun out of our darker evils. Have you ever seen a show called “Absolutely Fabulous”?  It’s anything but.  Reality TV allows us to see everyone’s darker side.  Other TV shows glorify gluttony, greed, anger, and arrogance.  Our politics is filled with the glory of lies and expediency.

The thing is, all this darkness is death.  Humans are not mushrooms and we need light to live.  But we have, as it were, become convinced that we are mushrooms.  We think all of this is normal – healthy. The Evil One makes us hate what is good for us and love what is bad for us. In fact this is such a good trick of his, that he makes us think the bad stuff really is us.  A friend speaking of the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage said she “was given my full humanity…”  I had no idea how to peacefully challenge her on that point.  That’s not your humanity: that’s a lie.  What part of my life in Christ has failed so much that she could her I would agree with her, and what part of my inability to have a peaceful reply allows her to continue in that mistake? We let Jesus deal with that, I think, and her confessor.

But how is your life a light that shines in the darkness?  How is mine so?  St Paul says, “Walk as children of the Light” and Jesus says, “Let your light shine before men”. Paul says that will prove the truth of God, Jesus says “that men may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.”  Paul adds that it will reprove the works of darkness.

Which, of course, means they won’t like us so much any more.

That is the whole point of Christmas becoming a light in a world of darkness and dying for it.