I would like to turn our attention this morning to our Old Testament lesson which comes from a portion of Holy Scripture that is unfortunately sadly neglected, The Song of Solomon also known as the Song of Songs. It really doesn’t come up too often in our lectionary cycle, but one place in which we do often hear from the Song of Songs is in the readings for weddings. The reason for that is because it is a love song, or rather a cycle of love songs, which celebrates the beauty of creation and the love between man and woman as the crowning glory of that creation.
On the surface, the book doesn’t seem all that religious. In fact there is no overt reference to God, ritual, or theology anywhere in this book! Instead we get a series of very sensual and frankly erotic poems. There is a reason why we don’t see many Sunday school curriculum on this part of scripture. In fact it doesn’t seem like the type of thing good Church people should be reading at all!
For this reason people might be surprised to know that the Early Church Fathers wrote more commentaries on this book, than any other book in Holy Scripture! It wasn’t always as neglected as it is today! The reason for that is because they saw it as an allegory of the love of Christ for the Church.
Throughout the centuries scholars have debated on whether the Song was meant to be interpreted as religious symbolism or as a literal hymn to sexual love, but I’m not so sure the two are mutually exclusive. There is a reason that sacred poetry and romantic poetry are often so difficult to distinguish from one another.
We might divide the world into the secular and religious, the sacred and the profane, but the Bible isn’t so black and white. All creation declares the glory of God and as God’s image-bearers the love of man and woman is especially charged with religious significance. In fact, in Saint Paul’s instruction to married couples in Ephesians 5 he writes, “This mystery is profound, but I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
So what religious significance should we take from this reading?
The first comes from a straight forward literal readings of the text. God has filled the world with beauty. He gives us winter and rain, but he also gives us spring to renew our joy. He has populated the forest with flowers of dazzling colors and intoxicating fragrance, majestic woodland creatures, and the songs of birds. Along with all these lovely gifts he also made us delightful to one another. Romantic love has the power to elevate the human heart and dispel the clouds of gloom and sorrow. It calls us out of our isolation into the wider world.
There is yet more to be gleamed form this text when we look at it through the mystery of Christ’s love for the Church, God’s passion for us.
The young woman hears the voice of her beloved calling to her from a distance. There is a contrast between where she is and where he is. She is cloistered away in her room, but he calls to her from the wildness and freedom of the outdoors. There is a wall that separates them.
Each of us are prisoners of sin, closed in by the walls of self, banished from the garden. Our disobedience has brought about the long age of winter. Think about C.S. Lewis’ Narnia under the spell of the White Witch, where it is always winter but never Christmas! Christ has come at long last to deliver us.
She likens her beloved to a wild gazelle leaping over the hills. See how eager Christ is to be with us! How he runs to meet us! How easily he over comes every obstacle to be with us. Saint Ambrose comments on this passage,
"Let us see him leaping; he leaped out of heaven into the virgin’s womb, out of the womb into the manger, out of the manger into Jordan, out of Jordan to the cross, from the cross into the tomb, out of the grave into heaven.''
Through his death, resurrection and ascension Christ has made all things new. He calls to us, he woos us, pleads with us to come to him. His voice is the message of the Gospel that calls to us to come out into the freedom of God’s new creation and to Christ our bridegroom.
Inside the prison of sin and self it is cold and grey, but with Christ there is new life and abounding joy. “The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”
He stands behind her wall under her window and calls to her. She longs to be with him but she is also afraid. At another point the man compares his beloved to a dove hid among the clefts of the rocks. She is like a frightened bird hiding in the cliff afraid to leave but shyly waiting in her seclusion. He will not break in by force, because it is not plunder that he wants but love. She must willingly open up to him.
Similarly Christ calls to us, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Rev. 3:20)
Many will know the famous Victorian era painting by William Holman Hunt called “The Light of the World.” In it he depicts Christ visiting a home in the middle of the night holding a lamp and knocking. The door is shut and secured, overgrown with vines. If you look closely you will notice that there isn’t even a door knob on the outside of the entrance! As the artist was fond of explaining, this was entirely intentional. The door knob is on the inside. He is waiting for us to open the door and let him in. The choice must be ours.
Have you heard the voice of your beloved calling to you? Have you felt the lure of the divine romance? What is it that keeps you from opening the door to him? What is holding you back from running down the stairway to be with him?
Perhaps you are afraid to leave the security of your cell. You have been locked up there so long that you have begun to take comfort in it. Perhaps your sorrow has been so all consuming that you aren’t sure who you would be apart from it.
Maybe you fear the unknown. Sure, you might be a slave in Egypt but at least they have fleshpots! Can God lay a table in the wilderness? Your situation may not be ideal, but at least it’s familiar. Change is terrifying!
Perhaps you are afraid of scandal. Christ is not socially acceptable. He doesn’t fit in to your sophisticated social circle. He is primitive, a rustic shepherd from the wilderness. What will my family think? What if my friends don’t approve? Do I really want to make a spectacle of myself like a love-sick teenager?
It could be that you are afraid of being hurt or disappointed. You’ve been burned before and now you have become cautious. What if he is controlling? What if I can’t trust his promises? What if by choosing him I miss out on the opportunity to find happiness somewhere else?
C.S. Lewis wrote,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Love is always a risk. To accept the invitation of Christ means to step out in faith. Will you trust his promises? Can you accept his love? He gives you his heart. Will you give him yours?