Love and Desire in the Kingdom
A sermon on the Song of Songs 2.8-13 by Tim Hoffmann, 31 August 2003


I’m excited about tomorrow, aren’t you? For Spring is upon us. The wattles will be in flower. The rose buds will open, pungent with sweet scent. The birds: twittering and singing with extra vigour.

Nature on the break of bursting forth with all its loveliness. Lush and fecund at the height of its reproductive copulating cycle. Nature at its most sensual and seductive stage. Enticing us with its alluring colours, joyous songs and sounds and suffused aromas.

The new season is dawning and what could it mean for us? But maybe new adventures and maybe if you’re lucky new romance or a deeper new love in a love relationship you already have. In anticipation I’ve just joined a number of gay social groups to increase my chances of meeting Mr Right.

Tonight we have heard from The Song of Songs: Erotic love poetry set in a Springtime garden of unfathomable delights. The Song of Songs: eight chapters of verse extolling desire: overwhelming, titillating, unquenchable, intense desire.

The Song of Songs: A poem that provocatively begins with the words:

‘Kiss me deeply and all over for your sweet loving is better than wine’.

I think we can all relate to these sorts of emotions. I’ve never known true romantic love but I have known desire at the level of infatuation. A state where one’s sense of reality is skewed, where time and space are warped and one’s mind and thoughts are fully absorbed by the object of our desire. Our behaviour may seem to make perfect sense to us but crazy to everyone else!

In our reading the woman waits by her balcony as her Shakespearean suitor searches for her from the garden below. However, unlike Romeo and Juliet, this not a tragic love story. This is not about love suffered but love savoured.

Not only are there no calamities or misfortunes present but desire is described without restriction, without prohibition, and what’s more without reference to procreation and where the roles of men and women are irrelevant. It is freely expressed. It is freely sought out. It is unrestrained.

The Song of Songs, as you can guess, is in contrast to the rest of the Bible where human sexuality is generally regarded as needing careful governing and control. Many Hebrew and early Christian scholars have tried to exclude it from the canon.

However it has remained and its presence is literally a Godsend to those of us in the church who wish to shake the church of its hang-ups on sex and desire. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted it represents a reality check to all those who believe mistakenly that the restraint of passion is Christian.

There is no moral message to be found, no underlying edifying intent to its story. Additionally there is not a different level of interpretation to be discovered. The church has until recently tried to suffocate it of its meaning by imposing a heavy allegorical interpretation. The church has said that we cannot read it plainly it has to be deciphered. However the words are as we hear them: a song of erotic, indulgent passionate love poetry.

So what is meant by this book? What is its purpose? Firstly romantic love, as expressed between the woman and the man, is to be celebrated in all its technicolour wonder. The woman and the man are not historical characters. They are instead poetic types that the poet invites the reader to identify with. The poet enjoins us to celebrate desire and our sensual selves.

The Song includes passionate and intimate descriptions of sensual touch. It points to the exhilaration found in breathing in erotic scents. The excitement enjoyed by the sweet sound of an intimate voice. It contains many provocative images. Tonight we heard of rippling muscles like those of a mountain thoroughbred. It speaks of the amazing taste of another’s body.

Further it honestly explores the deep human emotion found in romantic love. It testifies to the power of human love as well as its pain. In chapter eight our lover says that:

‘Potent burns my love with the intensity of a blazing fire; unquenchable even by the ocean depths.’

This is a love that can lead to heartbreak as well as to ecstatic joy.
At a wider view the setting of this love story reminds of a love story at the beginning of time, the story of Eden. This poetry is set at a time of Israel’s history where the prophets’ voice was to be heard. The prophets looked forward to a peaceable Kingdom at the end of the Age. The Song of Songs locates that future Kingdom in the now; in the habitable present and allows us to enter it.

Just as our Eucharistic meal tonight both looks back to the last supper and forward to a future heavenly feast so our lovemaking today links both the world of Eden and a love soaked heavenly realm of the future to the present.

So in God know yourself and your inner selves. In God embrace the desires within you, love truly and enjoy the delights of a new season and a new day.