Sunday’s sermon: a love poem?

Erotic poetry is not something we usually associate with the word, “Bible.” But that’s probably because not very many of us are familiar with the Song of Solomon, a volume of passionate love poetry right there in the middle of our Bibles.

Our Old Testament lesson for this Sunday is Song of Solomon 2:8-13, in which a young man speaks to his lover, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” The imagery in the Song of Solomon is passionate and love-drenched: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine, your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is perfume poured out…”

Of course, the church over the centuries has tamed this down by interpreting it as a spiritual allegory. God is a lover in search of his beloved, which is his people. For Christians, this translates to the church: the Church is the bride of Christ. This is all well and good.

Some of the great saints, however, interpreted this as not just an allegory, but a way to talk about our passionate relationship with God. For them, to love God meant to be swept up in an intense, ecstatic relationship. For Teresa of Avila, her experiences of the living Christ were like the experiences of a young woman in love.

How should the preacher approach this text? Maybe by meditating on what it means to love God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength.” All our hearts? Are there other poems about the love of God? How intense is our love for God? Have you ever had a moment of ecstatic worship?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach…
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me ye women if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
Anne Bradstreet

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
William Shakespeare