Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reading and Preaching the Song of Solomon

It is rare that the lectionary takes us to the Song of Solomon. It is probably rarer still that a preacher would choose to focus on this passage. If you're a lectionary preacher are you going to join me in taking up Song of Solomon 2:8-13?

The question raised by the song as a whole has centered on whether to read it as a secular love song -- after all, nowhere does God appear in the poem.  It is a conversation between two lovers. It is erotic in nature. While the language is poetic and full of euphemism, it is fairly easy to figure things out. Thus, there is a clear reason why ancient Christian interpreters chose to follow rabbinic interpretations and move toward spiritual/allegorical readings. We're just not that comfortable talking about sex in church.  It's not just the question of gay and lesbian relationships, it's sex in general.

So, what do we do with this song?  It sits there within the borders of Scripture. It is sacred scripture. Perhaps it is the link to Solomon that cemented its place there, but it's still there.  Historical-critical readings lead us to interpret it as it was most surely first written -- a secular love song between two lovers (who may or may not have been married).  At the same time tradition invites us to read it allegorically as a love song between God and God's people (Jesus and the church). Could both be possible?

As I ponder these things in the midst of writing this week's sermon on this passage (yes, I'm taking it on), I would like to share this paragraph from Stephanie Paulsell's commentary on this book.

The history of the Song's reception is a history of multiple readings that find in this erotic poetry about two lovers' fruitful ways of pondering the relationship between God and Israel, Christ and the church, God and the soul. The song itself resists any absolute declarations about the intention of the author(s) or the final identity of the characters; it is poetry, after all. At their best, Christian readings of the Song enter the long conversation about this poem about the Song's own concerns: love, desire, the body, and the distance between even the most intimate lovers.  [Harvey Cox & Stephanie Paulsell, Lamentations and the Song of Songs: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Belief: a Theological Commentary on the Bible), WJK Press, 2012, p. 194].
If you would like to see how I handle the passage from this book you'll have to join us Sunday at Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy or simply check back to see the posted sermon. It's always more interesting live!

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