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Proper 17B Alt 1st Reading

Song of Songs 2:8-13

Song of Songs is a book rarely heard preached in evangelical churches, except during weddings. This, in particular, passage is a popular one for wedding services. To limit the power of this love poem to a wedding, however, is to lose this beautiful voice of ecstasy in our midst. The Apostle Paul tells us that the unity of marriage is a metaphor for the unity of Christ and the Church,[1] and the book of Revelation repeatedly refers to the Church as the Bride of Christ. The Sinai covenant reflects ancient marriage ceremonies. Marriage is only the metaphor pointing to the deeper reality. The reality of God’s radical love for creation, for humanity, and especially for the people of God. It bears noting that the gender of the speaker is not always clear through this book. It would be erroneous to exclusively carry the metaphor of God’s perspective with the male lover’s perspective. The two become one even in the language of Song of Songs, making it difficult to distinguish who is doing what to whom. Such intimacy is goal of humanity where God is in all in all.[2] In short, both speakers could be understood to represent either God or humanity in this poem.

Song of Songs is all at once a celebration of human sexuality in love as well as extended poetry proclaiming the ecstatic love of YHWH. We need not shy away from it. Instead, we should embrace the, at times, awkwardness and just dance. “In all parts of the Bible, especially in its poetry and its prophets, as well as in much of the teaching of Jesus, there are passage where literalism holds no key.”[3] Song of Songs does not lend itself to hyper-practicality; instead, it ought to be approached as it is. To attempt to squeeze out points may be to undo the power of the imagery. Offering the frame of God’s love for humanity may be especially helpful in preaching this passage. It can shake up the religiosity that we can fall into in our Christianity and call us into the joy and ineffability of life in Christ.

This passage is one of the milder stanzas in Song of Songs. Compared to other sexually charged verses, this is tame. In the preceding verses, the female speaker was addressing the daughters of Jerusalem, expressing her longing for her lover. She first introduces her edict to not “stir up or awake love until it is ready!” This phrase echoes through the book. It is a somewhat haunting turn of phrase with a chorus of possible meanings, including both moral and the more intangible wisdom of patience in love. The connection to waiting upon the Lord cannot be overstated. Often, pop-culture focuses on young, burgeoning love. The steady, consistent love that presses on in the midst of trials is less “attractive” but critical to understanding our interpersonal relationships as well as in our relationship with God.

Before we sit too long in this awe, however, the female voice again breaks in— “The voice of my beloved!” We, too, experience the sudden draw toward this voice. This voice finally speaks in verses 10-15. Here, however, the female lover waxes her beloved’s physical superiority, comparing him to a gazelle or deer. This comparison evokes imagery of easy gracefulness and quick-footed poise. She is proud of her beloved and wants her audience to see him as she does.

In verse 9, an interesting image emerges. In the Old Testament’s only use of this word, the female lover describes her beloved behind “our wall.” He asks her to run away with him, into the spring breaking onto the earth. The voice which she drew our attention to in verse echoes throughout creation—this is both the voice of a dearly beloved and the Word that spoke creation into existence. Life appears at this voice. The death of winter has past. The rain that destroyed, as in the flood, is over and gone. In its place, the spring has appeared and bears fruit, and this is the work of the beloved one, the one who speaks and creation is.

Of course the speaker calls attention to this voice, to this beloved. This voice responds by calling the lover to “come away,” draw back, retreat to a place of secrecy and privacy, a location unknown except to the beloved. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus are just a few biblical examples of those who drew away in order to enter the presence of the Lord. Likewise, while our culture (somewhat tongue in cheek) judges the officialness of a relationship by whether or not it is public, intimacy between persons is developed in the solitude of one another’s company.

The joy of the lover and the beloved at one another’s presence speaks deeply to our human experiences of love. Love gives birth to life. Whether it is the friendship that fills you with life and encouragement in the face of trials or your romantic partner who brings out of the beauty of the world we live in or, especially, the presence of the Holy Spirit when it seems all is falling apart. Love leads to life always.

[1] Ephesians 5:31-32.

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:28.

[3] Kerr, Hugh Thomas & Hugh Thomas Kerr, Jr. “The Song of Songs,” in The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. V. (Nashville: Parthenon Press, 1956), 99.

Megan Madsen

New Beginnings Church

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