We all love a love song, don’t we? It’s even hard to resist a good love song, or even cranking up the volume and belting it out in your car when no one is around.
Some love songs stick with us forever and others aren’t so catchy. I wrote my one and only love song at the young age of 13. It’s no wonder why it never made it to the Billboard Top 40. The lyrics, from what I can remember, went something like this:
“You are a rose, but never red in the face.
You are a violet, but never boring and blue.
You are sweet, so why not kiss me and like me as much as I like you.”
I’ll have to confess my seventh-grade crush was not nearly as impressed with my love song, as I was.
But we all love a love song. It’s hard to resist a good love song.
I even googled what the Billboard top love songs have been over the past six decades. Maybe some of these are familiar, maybe some of these are what make you swoon, maybe some are ones you secretly rock out to when no one is around.
We all love a good love song, don’t we? Songs like:
-Endless Love by Diana Ross and Lionell Ritche
-I’ll Make Love to You by Boys to Men
-How Deep Is Your Love by the Bee Gees
-I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston
-Crazy In Love by Beyonce
-Love Will Keep Us Together by Captain and Tennille
Just to name a few!
It is hard to resist a love song. And so here we are, reading love songs in church on a Sunday morning. It doesn’t seem likely, yet here it is: right smack in the middle of the Hebrew Scriptures, tucked in between the rather dour philosophy of Ecclesiastes on the one hand, and the magnificent, epic prophesy of Isaiah on the other. A love song… actually, a collection of love songs… actually, the most excellent of love songs, the Song of Songs, as it’s called.
And for as much as we say we love a good love song, this is the only time in a three-year lectionary cycle we have a reading from the Song of Songs or Song of Solomon, as it is also referred. And this text is paired with our Gospel lesson for today, where Jesus makes it clear that those who are focused on a legalistic keeping of the rules miss the point of God’s good creation and of the grace of God in which we all live if we are followers of God.
You may have asked, “What in the world is this doing in the Bible?”
You wouldn’t be alone in that ask. Your questioning of this text, this love song, joins the throngs of thousands from our history who have questioned the inclusion of this text in scripture. Early Rabbis debated its merit and whether it should be included. Early and medieval Christians shared the same worry over the language in this song, “My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. . .My beloved speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away’”(Song of Solomon 2:9,10).
Early Church historian, Origen even wrote a ten-volume commentary on this book of the bible and this Billboard top 40’s love song. I learned that in the Middle Ages, the Song was the subject of more commentaries than any other Hebrew Bible text.
What is it about this book, this love song, that has sparked such enthusiasm and debate through the centuries?
Some have argued that this is an allegory. Some argue this is about the mutual love between two lovers. Love that transcends far more than just the physical and more about fidelity and commitment. For Jewish and Christian interpreters, many have said that the Song described the mutual love of God and Israel or Christ and the Church.
Regardless of your take on this text, we all love a good love song, don’t we? More importantly, a love song that lifts mutual respect, love, fidelity, honoring our bodies as creations of God and the honor of all creation in love.
In a parish I once served, there was a couple that had been married for 65 years. On the 13th of the month, every month for 65 years, the husband gave his spouse a rose to commemorate their monthiversary, for they were married on the 13th of December. He never missed a month. I learned this story, as I saw these two hold hands while the husband took his last breath. They literally lived what the song of Solomon later sang, “love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.”
After the husband died, the wife came to my office one day at the church. In she walked, tears flowing from her eyes, in her hand was a rose. It was the 13th of the month. The husband had worked it out with the florist to make sure she got a rose on the 13th of every month, even after his death.
It is important and interesting to note that it is the female voice in this love song that takes the lead. She transcends the legality of the system and reminds the beloved of what true love is and how it is lived out.
She speaks, later in the Song of Songs, and says, “love is strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame (8:6). “Raging Flame” in Hebrew literally means a “flame of the Lord.” The divine name is linked with love at the key point in this text.
To be sure human love and God’s love are not, of course, mutually exclusive. But love in both accounts that is faithful and stays the course is powerful. Love transforms hate. Love breaks hearts of stone into hearts that see all creation in the image of God. Love is powerful.
There is power in love, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminded the whole world at the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markell.
Quoting from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.”
There’s power in love. Do not underestimate it. Don’t ever over-sentimentalize it.
Bishop Curry then went onto say,
“There’s power in love. Love can help and heal when nothing else can. Love can lift up and liberate for living when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live. Set me as a seal upon your heart, for love is as strong as death. Love is strong as death. It’s flashes are flashes of fire. Many waters cannot quench love. Love can see you through! There is power in love.”
This love is not just to be exhibited between a couple who loves one another or that of a couple who is married, but of the whole human family. In fact, the whole cosmos.
In a day and time when music and movies simultaneously extol and exploit love distorted, abused, and taken for granted.
In a day and time when there are women’s shelters to protect women and their children from domestic and or family violence.
In a day and time when human/sex trafficking rivals the drug trade for illegal financial gain.
In a day and time when headlines daily affirm that women around the globe are kidnapped, raped, and disrespected.
In a day and time such as this, we need to hear the Song of Songs. We need the power of love in song to heal the sin sick soul of this world.
Jesus of Nazareth taught us that the way of love is the way to a real relationship with the God who created all of us, and the way to true relationship with each other as children of that one God, as siblings in God’s human family.
One scholar said it this way:
‘Jesus had founded the most revolutionary movement in human history: a movement built on unconditional love of God for the world and the mandate to live that love.’ (Charles Marsh’s the Beloved Community)” (excerpt from Bishop Curry’s Royal Wedding Sermon)
We all love a good love song, don’t we? Even more so we yearn for the authentic, safe, mutual, dignity of love. We need to hear voices that speak boldly of God’s love, of true love. We need to be reminded of what love can be and lived out. There is power in love.
Human love, at its best, can be a glimpse, a reflection, of God’s love. May we never tire of offering glimpses, reflections, songs, lives; that remind the world and all there in of the fierceness of God’s great love for us all.
May it be so! Amen.