In place of the set psalm this week, we find a reading of that lovely poetry of The Song of songs, or of Solomon. It’s a small emotional poem of love and devotion:
Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the young women
Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men. (Song 2:1)
On Sunday we will only hear half a dozen verses of chapter 2, not including those quoted above, so it’s worth reading the Song in full. We do hear some warmly familiar ideas (and, even though we are not quite up to spring yet, appropriate themes after our mid-winter solstice):
Now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. 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.
Centuries of Christian theologians have drawn allegorical parallels to the relationship between Christ and the church, God and the people. A search of our hymn book Together in Song for songs based on this scripture draws only two references, including 223 How sweet the name of Jesus sounds. So it’s a good thought and worthy of reflection. (And if it is allegorical, then one of the considerations for exegesis must surely be that element of equality and dialogue that is evident between the partners?)
This well-worn interpretation, however, is not strongly supported by the text itself and can thus seem a little theoretical. This does not invalidate the vision and the inspiraton that might follow: but on the other hand, the overt celebration of human love is much more direct, imminently resonant, part of our creation.
Either way, it’s cause for rejoicing.
There are some lovely settings of this lovely poetry around. It really calls for an approach that is more romantic than rock, more glad than trad, and — at the risk of pushing it — more emo than frozo.
We hear one of our young couples render a comely duet by Laura Farnell, Arise my love. Having no congregational refrain, the song is not actively responsive; but the force and beauty of the poetry, the power of love both human and divine, will inevitably evoke their own response.