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Proper 17 2009

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Theme: The longing for love

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, you gave us the gift of physical attraction; help us to seek love for the sake of the beloved, putting ourselves second and in so doing, we may put you first as your son put us first, to die for our sakes and for the sins of the whole world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Song of Solomon is also called the Song of Songs in some Bibles. As I recall, it was never included in the Episcopal lectionary. It was just too racy. It was too embarrassing. As proper Christians, we should never be talking about this kind of stuff in church.

Now having said all of that, I would imagine that some young people and perhaps some older people will reach for their Bibles when they get home to see what I am talking about. And that would not be a bad thing for people to consult their Bibles, even if it is for the more lurid parts of the Bible. Some have questioned why this book was ever included in the Bible.

Though it is highly unlikely that Solomon ever wrote this book of the Bible, it sometimes bears his name, again depending on which translation you read. The Song of Solomon is a love poem. It can get graphic. But after having attended the Smart Marriages conference last month, it seems appropriate to talk about this stuff since intimacy was emphasized more at this year’s conference than in any other one, to date.

And, even though it is potentially embarrassing, the Song of Solomon is a book of the Bible. Being Holy Scripture, it deserves as much attention as any other book of the Bible. And the Revised Common Lectionary has blessed us by placing this particular part of the book in the lectionary for this Sunday.

Some say that the Song of Solomon is an allegory for the love of God for Israel. Christians later linked it to Christ’s love of the church and some also associated the bride to Mary. Others have noted that the song is much like the love songs of the cultures that surrounded Israel. So, this is really a series of love letters of two people who are not married. Today, we can see both explanations together as a way of expressing love that nourishes both body and soul. Human love allows us to celebrate God through our bodies and educates us in loving and being loved.

Since this is entitled the Song of Songs or the Song of Solomon, it would be wise to assume that this was originally a song. Hebrew poetry remains with us in many parts of the Old Testament, but the music is forever lost. They hadn’t invented a note and timing system that was put in a scroll somewhere. There are mysterious markings in the psalms that we suspect are musical instructions, but in this book and in other poetic instances we don’t know the music and if there is notation, we don’t understand what it means.

Like we would hear on any top 40 radio station and most any station that still plays music, the subject is amorè in the Song of Solomon. Up to this particular passage, the man and the woman describe each other in terms of radiant metaphor. It is obvious that they adore each other. And looking upon the other, they describe the great beauty that enraptures the beholder.

Our particular passage for today is a section in chapter two of the bride’s adoration for her beloved. This is a passage that we can probably get away with reading in church. She hears the voice of her beloved who leaps over mountains, like a deer. He is a strong jumper! He stands, like a voyeur, at a window in the wall surrounding her house, peering in.

He says, “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. The winter rains are over. The flowers are in blossom. The earth is singing. You can hear the cooing of the doves. The figs are ripe. The grape blossoms fill the air with sweet perfume. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.”

He wants her out of the house. (pause) He entices her by describing what she is missing. His report is sensual and experiential. She must come out and see, hear, smell, feel, and taste for herself. Otherwise, she will miss it all. The earth is sensually budding. He wants her and she knows it and celebrates it.

What happens next is that each seems to give the other freedom without the other. With that freedom, they no longer see each other. They miss each other and they search for each other. Then they are reunited.

Last month, Suzie and I were at the annual Smart Marriages Conference. We heard of ways couples can increase their intimacy through marriage education. We learned about how Attachment Theory is applied to the healing of adult relationships.

And we also heard about the state of relationships of young adults. And it is not good and it is not going to get better – at least not in the foreseeable future. 70% of couples getting married today cohabit before marriage. They are oblivious to the fact that cohabitation increases, not decreases, the likelihood of divorce.

But they also mentioned recent research about inertia in cohabiting relationships. It seems that when a member of a cohabitating couple wants out of the relationship, they find it more difficult to do so because their lives are so intertwined that unraveling all of that stuff looks too complicated. Finances are a prime example. And this is in spite of the fact that cohabiting couples break up within two years of living together. It’s sad.

That’s not to mention that young people are postponing marriage to later in life. The average age people are getting married for the first time is climbing. Research shows that the ideal age for marriage, in terms of the risk for divorce is 27, though I recently read a study that says the ideal age is 23 – 25. If you’re younger, the chance for divorce increases with a decrease in age and conversely, as you gets older than 27 (or 25) the odds of divorce increase.

Women, in particular, are caught up in trying to find the perfect man or soul mate. And they are postponing marriage in this search and for other reasons. The problem is that there is no such thing as a soul mate. Two people marry and learn to overcome the obstacles that are part of marriage and if they are successful, they grow into a deeper relationship. And I won’t even get into all the brain chemistry stuff.

Then there are women who begin to hear their biological clock ticking and some adopt or have an out-of-wedlock child or have a surrogate child. They don’t realize that the absence of the child’s father increases the chance of societal failure in the child.

And I haven’t even mentioned the men who fail to realize that they now have a biological clock. They fail to realize that their lives are greatly enhanced through marriage. They are much healthier if they marry.

Then we have the two people in the Song of Solomon. They are breaking all the social taboos of their ancient culture. It is as if they are living in the 21st century AD, not the 5th century BC. And yet this book is in the Bible. It must be important. Love must be important. Love fills our souls and makes all sort of biological changes in our bodies. We were made to love. God, who is love, wants us to taste what God’s love for us must be like. It is only a taste. We will fully know that love in God’s kingdom.

While loving and being loved are not the only goals of human existence, they can be transformative experiences that not only lead us to praise the One who makes joy possible, but also exercises our capacities for love. Glimpsing oneself not as perfect but perfect for someone, wanted, sought after, is a cause for singing both secular love songs and sacred hymns.

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, we thank you for the gift of love; through which we may see beyond ourselves, we may see glimpses of your great love for us, and by so doing, we long to be united to your love eternally, through your son who made this possible, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Text: Song of Solomon 2:8-13 (NRSV)

8     The voice of my beloved!

Look, he comes,

leaping upon the mountains,

bounding over the hills.

9     My beloved is like a gazelle

or a young stag.

Look, there he stands

behind our wall,

gazing in at the windows,

looking through the lattice.

10     My beloved speaks and says to me:

“Arise, my love, my fair one,

and come away;

11     for now the winter is past,

the rain is over and gone.

12     The flowers appear on the earth;

the time of singing has come,

and the voice of the turtledove

is heard in our land.

13     The fig tree puts forth its figs,

and the vines are in blossom;

they give forth fragrance.

Arise, my love, my fair one,

and come away.



[1]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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