Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Mark 7: 1-8, 14, 15, 21-23
It’s very easy to pass very quickly over our first reading this morning from the Song of Solomon.
And the Biblical Commentaries often do the same:
This is an allegory, they say of the Christian life.
But all too often we skip over what is being said, and say it’s all about God.
Well of course, it is, but we miss out on a very important human experience if we do that.
Love given and love received. When we receive love, we are sharing it. As love grows, as intimacy grows, it becomes something miraculous, something out of this world.
We all know the signs, the quickening of the heartbeat, the shared glances, the chance encounters, the sound of a voice, the tentative smile, the casual touch.
When I was teaching RE, I would put up on the white board quotations from the Song of Solomon, and ask the class where they thought these phrases came from.
Were they from the Karma Sutra? Or from a romantic novel, or from the Bible. Needless to say, no one opted for the Bible!
So let’s not rush to the allegorical interpretation, and simply dwell on this beautiful account of giving and receiving love:
“The voice of my beloved! Look: he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills! … like a gazelle or a young stag …Arise my love, my fair one, and come away … the time of singing has come.”
All a bit much for a Sunday morning!
It’s very easy to lose this sense of surging emotion.
Relationships can so easily get bogged down in questions of ‘should, ought, could and would.’
But every human soul revels in the simple and mysterious act of offering one’s heart to another for the first time, that mysterious joy of giving and receiving. Love given and received, love shared.
It’s sad to say, but unfortunately religion often gets in the way of that simple and mysterious experience.
The first flush of love can often be replicated in that first realisation that we are loved by God.
For many people, that realization often comes outside the church building.
It may be a walk in the countryside, when you suddenly feel at one with the natural world.
It can suddenly come upon you when listening to music, or when sitting quietly at home.
Religious experiences are common, far more common than we publicly acknowledge. Research into religious experience suggests that when people are asked, 80% of the population regularly has religious experiences, but are too embarrassed to talk about them, which probably accounts for the 20% who won’t come clean!
The account in the Gospel this morning perhaps explains why people are reluctant to own up!
The Pharisees are nit-picking. They are standing on the side-lines watching Jesus’ followers doing the very ordinary things of life, and telling them that they are doing it all wrong.
It’s rather like a program that I watched the other week about sex education in schools, where it turned out that most young people learn about relationships from pornography.
They learnt a terribly mechanical way of relationships, miles away from the Song of Solomon.
And that is what the religious leaders were doing in the gospel.
To have a good relationship with God, you must be doing this, then that, and do it in this way.
Of course, we are hard on the Pharisees, and they are an easy target.
But one only has to read the press to realise that many religious people today have the same kind of attitude.
I will only have communion with you if you believe the same things that I do, if you worship in the same way that I worship, if you have the same kind of relationship with God that I have.
And look what a mess that has got us into!
Trust has become fear; love has become a chore; delight has become a duty.
Religion as seen by the Pharisees has become beset by distractions
There is no doubt that they care deeply about their religion, but they have become obsessed with religious practices that they cannot see the wood for the trees.
Jesus calls us to something far more simple, something that any lover would understand.
He calls us to reach inside ourselves, to the very centre of our beings, for something that would quicken the heartbeat of our lives and equally touch the lives and hearts of those whom we encounter.
St. Augustine, who knew a lot about love, said simply. “Love God and do as you please.” If we are truly filled with love of God, what will please us will surely be what also pleases God!
Rumi, a Muslim mystic, spoke in similar terms: “Look inside and find where a person loves from. That’s the reality, not what they say.”
What does God require of us?
In the end, to return our spirit to its first love, where God was born in us, where God gave us that initial longing for him:
Arise my love, my fair one, and come away … the time of singing has come.”
Very simply: let us be swift to love, and make haste to be kind.
And the blessing of God will be received and given, in our relations with others and with God each day.
Rev Tony Whatmough