O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: come, and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.
A key is a symbol of authority. We are familiar with this symbol when Jesus gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom and in our times, when someone is given a key to the city. The prophet Isaiah also mentions a key in a messianic prophecy (22:22): “Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder.” Why would the key be on the Messiah’s shoulder? Today, our keys are little pieces of metal that we slip into our pockets and pray to St. Anthony to find when we’ve forgotten where we put them. For David, it would have been impossible for him to lock them in his car: the key to the city was a giant wooden beam that was so large that it would be carried on the shoulders!
When the city gates were opened, the one waiting at the gate would be allowed access to the king- that is, if you had a prior appointment or summons. In this antiphon, the specific key unlocks David’s City, Jerusalem. A man after God’s own heart, David ruled the people with mercy and justice, opening and closing the gates and setting the imprisoned free.
If this is a messianic symbol, how do we see Christ in this image of “Key of David”? Jesus Christ is the perfect descendant and fulfillment of David. He not only is a “man after God’s own heart”, but He is God’s Heart Itself, made manifest in the Incarnation and the Passion, and burning with infinite love for each individual! In His mercy, He opens the gates especially to the poor and lowly: to those who live in the darkness of sin, the shadow of death. We can come, “without money or cost” (Isaiah 55:1), without an appointment. Those who have received the summons to “love one another” (John 15:17) and live by it, will joyfully approach Him.
His Key is not one that sits with a plaque on the wall with a big sign that says “Key to Heaven, the New Jerusalem”. The Key is Himself-- the Key is the Cross. He carries this Cross Himself- a heavy weight under which He falls, His Precious Blood is spilled, and ultimately He dies upon It with a sign above Him to mock Him: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. Our access to the Eternal King and the New Jerusalem cannot be separated from His sacrifice on the Cross, the Key of our salvation, the Key to Eternal Life.
And so, on this 20th day of December we pray, come, Lord Jesus, Key of David! Open our Hearts to receive Your love and mercy-- Your summons to love as You have loved. May we always be mindful of Your Heart, burning for love of us, which is present in the Most Holy Eucharist, the Memorial of Your Passion that brings us back to Your Cross. You are the Light of the World. Save us by Your Precious Blood that we may have access to the Father. Come quickly to bring us forth from our captivity to sin and open the gates so we may enter there!
~ Written by Sister Mary John