This week’s readings are here.
This week’s lessons include the only appearance of the Song of Solomon in the three-year lectionary cycle. For those of us who have been reading the David-Solomon track, the shift is rather abrupt. From the events of David’s and Solomon’s lives culminating in last week’s reading concerning the dedication of the temple at Jerusalem, we turn now to the Song of Solomon, a series of verses with no narrative, historical, or even theological context to help us understand them.
The reason this selection is included is because of the connection with Solomon. In the coming weeks, we will be reading from the Book of Proverbs. Both of these texts have been associated with Solomon for a very long time. In the superscript (title) of the work appears Solomon’s name. Its appearance in the canon of both Hebrew and Christian scripture has been controversial because it is love poetry. Full of erotic imagery, the text describes and praises a sensual world of beauty. In both Jewish and Christian interpretation, the poem has been interpreted allegorically, describing God’s love for Israel, or Christ’s love for the church (or the individual soul).
Contemporary readers find some of the imagery amusing: Your hair is like a flock of goats, … your teeth are like a flock of ewes. But the desire, the love that is expressed in this poem transcends time and place.
Often, allegorical interpretation detracts from the meaning of a text. Sometimes, as in this case, it opens up new vistas of spiritual experience. Bernard has this to say about The Song of Solomon:
This sort of song only the touch of the Holy Spirit teaches, and it is learned by experience along. Let those who have experienced it enjoy it; let those who have not burn with desire, not so much to know it as to experience it. It is not a noise made aloud, but the very music of the heart. It is not a sound from the lips but a stirring of joy, not a harmony of voices but of wills. It is not heard otwardly, nor does it sound in public. Only he who sings it hears it, and he to whom it is sung–the Bride and the Bridegroom. It is a wedding song indeed, expressing the embrace of chaste and joyful souls, the concord of their lives and the mutual exchange of their love.”
Sermon 1, translated by G.R. Evans, from Bernard of Clairvaux, Selected Works, Classics of Western Spirituality