Monday, 20 July 2009

The wedding sermon I never had: Song of Songs 2:10-13; 8:6-7

A while back my brother got married. He asked me to share some "words of wisdom," which is always a tall order. I turned for inspiration to one of the wedding texts suggested by the Anglican Church, Song of Songs 2:10-13; 8:6-7, which also happened to be the text that Ingrid and I chose for our wedding. When I chose it (all those years ago!), I was hoping for something like what came out of my keyboard this time as I meditated on it for Chris' wedding. Instead, I got a sermon that was fairly predictable considering the background of the preacher: 2:10-13 was simply looked over and 8:6-7 was turned into an allegory of the depth of Christ's love for us. In short: only Jesus can love you this much, so turn to him to help your marriage work.

Here's an excerpt of my offerings. I'd appreciate critical feedback:

I'm going to read two excerpts from this Song, which happen to be the same excerpts that were read at my wedding. They sum up something of the reality of love and express in poetic form what I hope and pray for the both of you.

In the first excerpt, the woman is lying on her bed waiting with yearning for her man. He suddenly appears at the window and the woman recounts what he sings to her:

My beloved speaks and says to me:
'Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for 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 turtle dove
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.' (2:10-13).

The man desires what every lover desires: quality time with his partner. But why is this moment in time the best time? The answer: because it's spring time! There's a natural affinity between love and spring: its the time when we can finally begin to live again after the deprivations of a hard winter. It is a time when all our senses can celebrate the smells, sounds, and sights of an abundant world, finally put to rights, the way things should be. Love has the power to do this, to quicken us, to make us come alive again, to make us blossom.

Dear Tanya and Chris, it is my hope and prayer that your love for each other will be and remain this kind of spring-time love, a love which makes life beautiful and sustains us after long winter periods. I wish you plenty of times of refreshment where you can simply enjoy each other enjoy life, where you can blossom and grow and attract others with the perfume of your combined fragrance.

But there is also a dark side to love, one connected to death and not just life. We hear about this in the second excerpt, this time sung by the woman to the man. She beseeches him the following:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
all the wealth of one's house,
it would be utterly scorned (8:6-7).

These are sober words of warning. Love can kill you. It's not a game, something to be taken lightly, because your whole existence is tied up with it. This is the reason why, throughout the Song of Songs, there is a constant refrain in which the woman beseeches her young companions not “to stir up or awaken love until it is ready.” You two have already taken that step. Your love has been stirred and awakened, and so now you bear a great responsibility towards each other. Tanya, my brother's life is in your hands. Chris, Tanya's life is in yours. My hope and my prayer for you both is that you will fulfil for each other the request that the woman expresses in this song: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm.” What does this mean? The Good News Bible paraphrases this verse as follows: “Close your heart to every heart but mine; hold no one in your arms but me.” I think that if you can respect both dimensions of the reality and responsibility of love—the power of love to give and life and enrich it, and the power of love to kill—you will be on the way to a relationship that is blessed and that will be a blessing to others.


Rachael said...

Beautiful and so sweet. It can be hard sharing some "words of wisdom" but you did great!

Phil Sumpter said...

Thank you Rachael.

Hannah Fox said...

that's very beautiful, i have yet to find this kind of love myself but the words about closing your heart to every heart but the one who you commit to in marriage and not holding anyone else in your arms speaks to me powerfully about not fooling around with love and awakening it before the right time. thanks!

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Hannah,

I'm glad you could profit from it!

Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

You may like "The Song of David’s Son".

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks for the link Richard. I want to listen to it but I'm struggling to find time. I would especially like to hear the one on original languages that you linked to on your blog.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was beautiful and no truer words have ever been spoken

Nathaniel Rhoads said...

do you know the title of that painting in your post? I'd like to find a larger image of it. thanks.

Phil Sumpter said...

Sorry, I found it randomly ages ago.

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old post and he may no longer be interested, but in the interest of giving due credit, the painting in this post is entitled Song of Songs by Michael Cook. Michael is an amazing artist in Derbyshire, UK.

A print of this painting can be ordered from his website, Hollowed-Art at

Roxanne said...

This is truly beautifully expressed. And you're correct, so many times, preachers skip over the human love one for another, moving directly to the love of Christ for his Church which of course, is the Body of Christ.