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O 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 image in the fourth O Antiphon is a powerful one, and it speaks to our plight as prisoners of sin. Isaiah wrote of those who dwelt in darkness seeing a great light; the first Christians know what we know, which is that Christ is the light, and we are those in the darkness. One of the earliest beliefs of the first Christians was that after he died and before he was resurrected, Christ descended into hell where he freed the righteous who had died before his coming. That is a powerful testimony to their faith in his redeeming blood. 

That image of Christ as key to our prison has powerful resonances for us, as Malcolm Guite points out in his splendid sonnet on the Antiphon, in an age when we seek ‘closure’, a key to unlock our troubled spirit is an apposite one. What we seek, Christ alone can offer us. To a people with itchy ears (and feet) this is a hard saying. We want to sample ‘spirituality’ until we find something that suits us; we would expect to move on if at some point it ceases to please us. Recently I was asked where the ‘love’ was in the attitude of the church to ‘gay marriage ‘? My answer did not satisfy, for it was to this effect: that God has told us that such relationships are not to be blessed by his church, and indeed, love lies in telling those concerned that fact. That is what the Church believes God to have taught us. In some places in the Church, some want to follow the example of other churches and explain away the words of St Paul. One sees the temptation, but where does that end? Is it the job of the Church to adapt to the world, or to bring God’s word to it? We are not told that the world will welcome that word, and it is always pleasant and sweet to seem to tell people in love what it is they want to hear. But we cannot yield to that temptation.

The key to the chains which bind us is not to be had in the things of this world. Were that the case, mankind would, by now, have recreated Eden. St Augustine told us that our hearts would be restless until they found their rest in God. Lord, lead us to that rest only you can give, and release us from our slavery to the things of this world.