The Power of Love
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Luke 22: 14-20
September 2, 2018
Rev. Dr. Miriam Dakin
Song of Solomon consumed the thoughts of theologians in the early days of the church and was the most written about in theological exploration in the first few centuries. Yet, we don’t often hear sermons from this text. Today’s scripture passage is one of only two selections from the book to make it into the lectionary. You can probably guess why. The book is a sensual love poem, leaving some folks wondering why it ended up in holy scripture. For those of Jewish tradition, the book is seen as an allegory of God’s love of the Israelites. In Christian theology, the book reveals a message of Christ’s love of the church. There is a more recent theory that the poem is a mortuary song, identifying the setting as a funeral feast establishing a backdrop where the power of love is stronger than the power of death.
Despite my age – or how old my sons think I am – I was not there at the time Song of Solomon was written, so I cannot say with certainty what the writer’s intent was. What I can say is that the image of God portrayed in this poem is a strong picture of one who knows us and wants to be with us. As we hear these words together this morning, may we be open to hear a word from God.
8 The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. 9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. 10 My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. 13 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.
What is your image of God? Many years ago, I asked that question of a woman nearing the end of her earthly existence. She was an artist who could see what to draw on what looked to be blank pieces of paper to me. I’ll call her Carol, though that was not her name. One day I asked Carol if she had an image for God, since she could clearly see things I could not.
Carol thought about it for several minutes before shaking her head and saying, “I don’t have an image for God – nothing concrete like my artwork comes to mind.” What about an afterlife? Is it a place you can describe? She thought some more and finally said, “no, I can’t see a place that I can describe, but here’s what I do see and believe and know to be true. I believe that I came from Love and that when I die I will return to Love – forever.”
We come from Love and we return to Love. But what does that mean? We hear the word “love” and where do our minds go? What relationships come to mind? Right now, who is on your mind? Someone with whom you have a one-dimensional, superficial relationship, or someone with whom you have a deeper, more complex experiences of commitment, struggles, and support?
We come from Love. According to Genesis, we are created Imago Dei, in the image of God. And what does God say once the Creator looks at us? God says, “that’s good!” God looks on us in love and says we are made in God’s own image and that we are good.
Good is not the same as perfect. God did not create us and say we are perfect. What God did do is create us – keeping the relationship between Creator and created one that is characterized by love. The image of God in Song of Solomon is a God who pursues us – leaping upon mountains and bounding over hills to reach us. God seeks our presence before we can even begin to search for the Sacred. This is not a casual stroll. God is running to us, leaping and bounding – eager to reach us! Once, when I was a teenager I was mowing the grass, riding on the mower while my father pushed a mower on the steep bank below me. I came upon a snakeskin and wanted to let my dad know so that he would not be startled by it when he walked up the hill. I signaled my dad by forming my fingers like fangs and mouthing the words “snake skin,” pulling the skin on my arm when saying “skin.” Talk about miscommunication. Dad immediately let go of his mower and ran up the hill to make sure I was okay. I have never doubted my dad’s love for me, but the image of him sprinting up the hill to get to me remains one of my favorite reminders of how our family relationships can sometimes mirror the love of God. Love comes bounding over the hills to reach us – whether it is for protection, or simply to be with us.
William Blake wrote that “we are put on this earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love.” The power of God’s love is always intense. God’s love does not run hot and cold. Some of us may not have relationships on earth that help us understand the nature of God’s love. The power of God’s love is that it does not depend on how we feel about God, ourselves, or anyone else. God’s love for us is not determined by what we do, or say, or believe, or think.
Last week we talked about forgiving ourselves to make God at home in us. The reality is that we can’t kick God out because there God comes again – leaping on the mountains, bounding over hills – to be in communion with us. We can run. We can never hide from a God intent on showing up and loving us, no matter what.
What does God find once we are found? God gazes at us and sees us through the lattice – the parts of our lives and ways of being that distort the image in which we were created.
There is a fictional television show whose main characters – a married couple – are Russian spies living as Americans near D.C. in the early 1980’s. Even more than the story line, I am fascinated and intrigued by the numerous disguises the characters adopt. As the audience, we know the characters well enough to know who they really are, but the disguises are so good that the characters do not look much like their real selves. We know who they are because by the time we see them in disguise we know much more than just their physical appearance, so we are not fooled.
God is not fooled and does not get distracted by who we pretend to be, wish we could be, wish we were not, nor by what we have or have not done. God still sees us for who we really are. God still calls us good. And God still chooses to pursue us. But, being pursued is not always a comfortable feeling.
C.S. Lewis described being pursued by God in this way, “I had a notion that somehow, besides questing, I was being pursued…night after night, feeling whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.”
Sometimes this power of God’s love is so intense we find it hard to bear. A few days ago, I watched a young girl – probably about 8 or 9 years old – see some of her family members she had not seen for a long time. Her extended family greeted her with oohs and ahhs and welcoming words to let her know how much they loved and missed her. The little girl was so overwhelmed by the strong reaction that she burst into tears and tried to hide behind her mother. What are we to do when we are called to bear the beams of such powerful love? How can we endure it?
When we encounter God’s all consuming, overwhelming love, most of us probably want more control than we have. We know that ultimately, the greater the capacity to love, the greater opportunity there is to suffer.
A friend once described the experience of becoming an empty-nester by saying how becoming a mother made her realize that her heart would forever walk outside her body. When her children left home to begin their adult lives, she experienced tremendous grief. The love of children she had eagerly welcomed had left her exposed and vulnerable to pain she had never known before.
So, maybe it is not God’s love we want to control – maybe we want to control the sense of vulnerability we feel by allowing ourselves to be completely known and loved in return. Perhaps we do not want to risk loving a God who refuses to be created in our image and controlled by our thoughts and feelings. Maybe we wonder if the God who leaps on the mountains and bounds over hills to be with us can be sincere? Song of Solomon is poetry, after all. The love described here sounds unrealistic and romanticized. Our experiences teach us that real love gets down in the trenches of everyday life with us.
Look at the example of Jesus during everyday life with the disciples. Remember how he was there when the storm threatened to capsize the boat and he calmed the sea? Remember how he healed the blind and the lame – and taught the disciples that loving others was how they could love God? Remember that he put meeting the needs of the poor and lonely was more important than following the rules of faithful living – because it was a way to live one’s faith? Remember how he taught through stories to both help them understand better as well as make sure that they would never run out of ways to consider his teachings? And remember how he grieved when his friend, Lazarus, died? Real love, powerful love, walks alongside and is not separate from the everyday activities and experiences of life.
The disciples had several ways of bearing the beams of love. Some doubted and made their struggle to believe known. Some questioned and wondered aloud what to make of the ministry in which they were involved. Some challenged and pleaded with Jesus to figure out a way to be more normal and not attract so much attention. Some had faith, then doubt, then faith, again. Some wanted Jesus to perform more miracles. Some wanted Jesus to limit his healing to those they deemed worthy of it. Some wanted Jesus to love the people they loved and hate the people they hated. Some wanted assurance they would stay close to the seat of power. Some expressed their feelings of being unworthy of the love Jesus offered. The disciples, like us, wanted some control over the Love that guided and surrounded them.
So, how does Jesus respond? Hear these words from the Gospel of Luke: 14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it[a] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Jesus, knowing that his death was approaching – knowing that he would be betrayed, denied, and abandoned – showed up, took his place at the table and said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this meal with you before I suffer.” Jesus comes leaping on the mountains, bounding over the hills to be with good and imperfect people created in God’s own image.
We are those good imperfect people, learning to bear the beams of a powerful love in our lives that relentlessly pursues us, sees us through our disguises, and loves us with a love that defeats death itself.
In a few minutes we will share in communion. You are invited to come to the table to share in the power of the Love you came from and the Love that someday each one of us will return to – to be loved for all eternity.