O Antiphons

O root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the nations; before whom kings keep silence, for whom the nations long; come and liberate us and delay no longer.

The third O Antiphon takes its inspiration from Isaiah 11, read on the second Sunday of Advent:

“A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.”

The image of a leader among kings, endowed with the gifts of the Spirit, brings back a vivid memory for me. It is of a procession I took part in during Holy Week in Antigua, Guatemala, during the final years of the civil war that ravished that country for 36 years:

The Palm Sunday procession starts at the main Cathedral with Mass and winds through the streets from dawn to dusk. The entire city plays a part. An enormous platform weighing several tons is brought forth, born by twenty-some people. The platform is about the length of a semi truck trailer and covered with silk and flowers. On it stands a life-size figure of Jesus, wearing a golden crown, dressed in royal clothing and carrying the cross.

Jesus is beginning his Passion today. Around the figure of Christ are other figures, about a dozen of them, all kings, all kneeling and throwing down their own crowns at the feet of Jesus. As the people lift the platform onto their shoulders, the crowd begins to sing and the procession moves forward. All day long the procession will make its way through the town, and in each street it will trod over rose petal designs laid down on the stone pavement. The streets are decorated by community groups with vibrantly colored flower petals arranged to paint the group’s emblem or motto that scatters mandala-like as the procession passes.

It feels like Palestine at the time of Jesus. I wave my palm branch along with the crowd and feel an urge to help carry the image of Jesus. All day long people pray and sing, visit with each other and take their turn carrying the heavy platform. A mighty joy and solidarity is in the air. The people witness to the truth-in the midst of war and unrest, they know and state publicly that Jesus is their king, that God understands their struggles and loves them tenderly. Jesus is the true and lasting king, before whom all earthly powers must keep silence.

In our times of political stalemate, it is a challenge to imagine the leader among kings described here. This “root of Jesse” or “a shoot” sprouting from the stump should give us hope in God, however. For God brings new life where before we saw only a tree chopped down and left behind. God works in a hidden way and with small beginnings. This “sprout of Jesse” will become mighty and grow into a strong liberator, the One who will free the nations.

As mothers, we must continue to hope for a peaceful world for those we love, our children and our family members. Today's Antiphon is about the theological virtue of hope. Out of the stump grows a new shoot that will become rooted in a new heavenly reality. Jesus is the beginning of all of this.

We have a part to play in the newness represented by the Root of Jessie, assuring a more peaceful future. We do this by placing our primary allegiance to Christ and not to any other person or thing. As mothers, we hope for a future envisioned by the prophet Isaiah

"The wolf will lie down with the lamb… and a child shall lead them… they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (cf. Isa 11:6-9).

Meditate this by listening to The Dream Isaiah Saw, a choral work commissioned in remembrance of those lost on 9-11. It is a powerful reminder that God will prevail. May God show us the way to hope for such a world!

Copyright 2014 by Julie Paavola