O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations shall do homage: Come quickly to deliver us.
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.
Ensign, there's a word you don't hear very often. Simply, it means "flag" or "banner." In old military ranks the "ensign" was the second left tenant, or second lieutenant, who would bear the banner as the army corps marched forward. While most armies have done away with the rank of "ensign" it is still the most used junior officer rank throughout the Star Trek Universe (it's also still used in the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, & elsewhere).
In this O Antiphon, Jesus is both the "root of Jesse" and the signum populorum, the "ensign before the people." He not only lies below the earth, but stands tall above the people. He reaches into the past, but leads us bravely forward. He is grounded and yet he flies.
The message in this O Antiphon is one that promises that destruction is not eternal. Death is not the end. What is laid deep will rise.
David's lineage, given to him by his father Jesse (hence "root of Jesse") seemed to have died off only to be resurrected in Jesus - the Son of David by Mary (as foretold in Is 11:10). So too, his kingdom. In Jesus, both the line and the kingdom are restored and now the people who are gathered under this banner march forth.
What of death? Many who march forth in battle are only destined to die. To not survive. To suffer mightily at the hands of the enemy. The verse from the hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" reads, "O come, Thou Branch of Jesse's tree, free them from Satan's tyranny. That trust thy mighty pow'r to save, and give them vict'ry o'er the grave!"
This is the promise - that with Christ's advent, his coming then, now, and still one day, is one that looses the bonds of death, that breaks its brutal hold on beauty, that destroys decays' despotism over life.
The root that lay dormant for thousands of years now bursts onto the scene, into glorious day to lead his armies before the evil foes of sin, death, and Satan himself. To what end? That the ensign before the people shall be hoisted over even the gates of hell, which shall not, cannot, prevail before the Radix Jesse, who has come forth from of old.
So "we peoples" march under the banner of the Root of Jesse. We battle death, we fight for life. As we cry out, "O Root of Jesse" we also proclaim with Paul, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:55)
It is hard to muster a rebuke of death when it stares us in the face. When children are taken from us, when spouses shrivel before us, and when loved ones depart from this life. In these moments it is right to mourn life lost. To weep. To rend our garments. Good weeps with us. His purpose was, and is, life.
But we cannot dwell there forever, we must remember the battle fought, the skirmish won. The Root of Jesse is victorious and so we can rebuke death, we can admonish it, and reprimand it to keep silent before radiating, pulsing, everlasting life itself.
To all of you who have lost those dear to you this year or to those whose souls are still tinged with the dank depression of loved ones who passed years ago; hear this -- death is not the end.
We who march under the Ensign can join in the unending chorus of the hosts of God and with the band Gungor sing, "This is not the end; This is not the end of this; We will open our eyes wide, wider....We will shine like the stars bright, brighter."
Amen, come Lord quickly come.