O Radix Jesse: hope that does not disappoint

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, who stand as an ensign to the peoples, at whom kings stand silent and whom the gentiles seek, come and free us, delay no longer!

Some scripture texts worth pondering as we listen to the antiphon are Isaiah 11.1; Isaiah 11.10; Jeremiah 23. 5-6: Micah 5.1; Romans 15. 8-13; Revelation 5.1-5; Revelation 22.16


We all have a tendency to believe in D.I.Y. salvation or, if not that, to put our hope in political/economic solutions. The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ opened up the hope of greater freedom and self-determination for the peoples of the Middle East, but the latest news from Syria and Egypt, as well as disturbing reports from Libya, suggest that we may have been over-optimistic. The death yesterday of Kim Jong-il, while welcomed by some as removing a tyrant, has raised the spectre of an unstable nuclear power. Add to that the fragility of the Eurozone, the British economy in the doldrums and the prospect of a rather bleak New Year, and one can see why some fear the emergence of new dictatorships in place of the old. It is in this context that we sing O Radix Jesse. It reminds us that Christian values are never the world’s values; that the promise we rely on is one that will transform the world; that our hope and trust are in a Saviour who will be given to us, not in anything we can do ourselves*.

The symbolism of the antiphon is beautiful. We think of Jesus as the flower that blossoms on Jesse’s ancient stem and fills the whole world with its scent. Paul helps to articulate the theology underpinning it, especially in Romans 15. 8-13. He says Christ became a servant of the Jewish people to maintain God’s faithfulness by making good God’s promises to the patriarchs and by giving the gentiles cause to glorify God for his mercy. He quotes Isaiah also, for Christ is that scion of Jesse who will rule over the gentiles and in whom they will place their hope. The promise to Israel, the mercy shown to the gentiles, the hope we all share is freedom from sin and death and the enjoyment of eternal life made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary. The Messiah for whom Israel has prayed and longed is become the Saviour of the World. All the jangling discordances of humanity are quieted, the divine harmony restored; but here on earth we have yet to experience the fullness of redemption. So we pray, ‘Come and free us; delay no longer!’

* That does not mean we need do nothing. On the contrary we must do all we can to bring about the Kingdom.


6 thoughts on “O Radix Jesse: hope that does not disappoint”

  1. I’ve really been enjoying your reflections on these rich texts with their haunting melody. It’s amazing how much these ancient names and petitions still have to say to us.
    Could you please let us know who is singing in the audio files? The chanting is beautifully measured.

  2. The antiphons are sung by the North American College, Rome (a recording made a few years ago and available as podsafe music). May I say how much I enjoy your blog, of which I am an erratic but appreciative reader?

  3. Is this imagery of the flower on the ancient stem connected to St Etheldreda of Ely Cathedral and those others who placed their staff into the ground only to have it green into life?

    I am also enjoying the contemporary setting of the Great Antiphons by Arvo Part.

  4. It is a very common theme, especially in the Middle Ages. Biblically, it really goes back to Aaron’s rod and all the other types of changes wrought by God in scripture, especially the making fruitful and fertile what seemed dead or barren. One of the emblems of St Joseph is a rod with lilies sprouting from the top.
    I love the Arvo Part settings, too! Isn’t it great that he has been appointed to the Pontifical Council for Culture?

  5. Thank you. This is an image that resonates and one I’d like to chase further. The first time I encountered it was in a line print in the old style Radio Times; the old boy gardener had gone off, presumably for his tea break, leaving his fork in the ground. Not only had it sprouted a tendril, but it had also attracted a robin looking for a nest site.
    I’ve struggled to focus this Advent; my attention turning from one reading to another. Even this week has been too rich a diet with layer upon layer of images and ideas. This image of the root that springs life in us, for us and through us is one that grounds me and will take me through Christmas.

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