How Is Your Love Life?
I am beginning to love Shir ha-Shirim (Song of Songs). However – I rarely preach from this book. In fact – I think I only preached from this book once or twice (both times at weddings).
But – since I am teaching a course this semester on this book – I decided to preach at our school chapel on a passage from chapter 5 (vv. 2-10, but the section goes all the way to 6:3). The sermon can be found here.
The book is a masterpiece of poetry which “immortalizes the love about which it speaks.” It does that especially by presenting love as always in progress, and by presenting the lovers through dialogue (there is no narrative here). Note that the book starts in media res (in the middle of things): Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth…and it ends without closure (see last verse of the book). This design “makes the Song, in effect, a poem without beginning or end. Like the love it celebrates, the Song strives to be ongoing, never-ending.”
In my interpretation of the book, I tend to agree with Iain Provan that one does not have to choose between the male-female (human) type of love and that between Christ and the Church (or God and the human soul). It can/should be applied to both. In my message in chapel I tried to spend the first half applying it to the horizontal type of love (male-female), and then move in the second part to the divine type of love (Christ- Church or human soul). Unfortunately, I seriously underestimated the length of the message (as I usually do), and I hardly had any time to talk about the vertical type of love (Christ and the human soul).
Tomorrow – I will preach from the same passage in the Church that I serve (HEM – see blogroll). However, this type I will not spend much time talking about the horizontal love. It is not because that is not important. Rather, it is because I believe that a sermon/study about human love is more appropriate at a retreat, to many in the congregation this may not be relevant, and because I believe that if the vertical dimension is going well (the relationship with God) the horizontal one will also improve.
Besides – I am always hesitant to throw out the window (despite modern [lifeless scholarship]) the interpretation of (at least) 1700 years of Christian writers. Especially when one has access to the amazing commentaries of John Durham and Matthew Henry on Song of Songs (see the blogrolls here).
All quotes and some of the ideas are from J. Cheryl Exum – “The Poetic Genius of the Song of Songs” from Perspectives on the Song of Songs.