The fourth of the seven Big O’s:
O Key of David, and Scepter of the house of Israel, you open and no one can shut, you shut and no one can open: Come and bring the captives out of the prison house, those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
…and the same thing paraphrased for rhyme and meter:
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.
In the summer of 1987, after my first year in seminary, I spent the better part of three months as a chaplain intern at the Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. (It was part of wretched exercise called Clinical Pastoral Education, still required of most seminarians across denominational lines.) The patients on my unit were there because they were deemed to be a danger either to themselves or to others. In other words, they were real nut cases: schizophrenia, bipolarity, paranoia, multiple personality, various delusions, and some stuff I’m probably forgetting.
As crazy as they were, however, most of them were able, at any given moment, to interact with one another and with staff members in ways that seemed quite … well … normal. Now, combine that with the fact that some of the staff were pretty crazy themselves, and the situation gets very “interesting.” A neutral third-party observer might have been sometimes hard pressed to distinguish the patients from the staff! The only way to tell for sure was to watch and see who was able to pull a key out of his or her pocket and exit the building.
I, of course, had a key. And I have to say, every time I used that key and left the building, I did so with conscious gratitude. During those three (long) months, it never got routine. I was always aware of how privileged I was to be able to leave the surreal world of the mental hospital unit behind me for a few hours. Ironically, it was in the act of leaving them that I felt the most compassion for the patients, none of whom had asked to be paranoid or suicidal or sociopathic. But there they were, locked in. And there I was, holding a key.
On a more cosmic scale, however, I’m just as much a captive as those mental patients, and the key I used to separate myself from them would be of no avail to me, or to anyone else, in the captivity we all share as human beings. The “prison house” in which we are held is built of pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, avarice (greed), and sloth. Its walls are lined with deceit, theft, adultery, and murder, and reinforced with resentment, bitterness, exploitation, and oppression.
There is only one key that can unlock its door—the Key of David, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Anointed One of God, the Messiah. We who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death eagerly—no, anxiously—await the arrival of that Key, the Key who will both liberate us from our captivity and permanently “close the path the misery.”
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.