“The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. 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. 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 turtledove 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.’” – Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Psalm 45: Ode for a Royal Wedding
To the leader: according to Lilies. Of the Korahites. A Maskil. A love song.
1 My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.
2 You are the most handsome of men;
grace is poured upon your lips;
therefore God has blessed you forever.
3 Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one,
in your glory and majesty.
4 In your majesty ride on victoriously
for the cause of truth and to defend the right;
let your right hand teach you dread deeds.
5 Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies;
the peoples fall under you.
6 Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.
Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;
7 you love righteousness and hate wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
8 your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
9 daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;
at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.
10 Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear;
forget your people and your father’s house,
11 and the king will desire your beauty.
Since he is your lord, bow to him;
12 the people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts,
the richest of the people 13 with all kinds of wealth.
The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes;
14 in many-colored robes she is led to the king;
behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.
15 With joy and gladness they are led along
as they enter the palace of the king.
16 In the place of ancestors you, O king, shall have sons;
you will make them princes in all the earth.
17 I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations;
therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.
When I was younger I used to love to play chess. I loved the nuances of the game, the richness of the possibilities that unfold as the game is played. But there’s one partner I used to play against who really took the wind out of my sails. He didn’t care about the richness of the game or the possibilities. He played to WIN. His moves on the board were awkward and lacked finesse, but he always won. When I pointed this out to him he said, “but that’s the point of the game, to win.”
And I had to admit he was right. The point of the game of chess is to win.
If the goal of chess is to win, what is the goal of life? What is the goal of our faith? Ultimately, where are we headed?
Towards the end of his life the apostle Paul wrote:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day.” (II Timothy 4:7-8)
That was the goal Paul had for life – he called it ‘finishing the race, keeping the faith’.
To put it another way, our goal is eternal life. Heaven. We will be spending eternity with Jesus, the Son of God who loves us so much he gave his life for us. What will that going to be like, and how can we orient ourselves toward that goal?
Today’s scripture readings describe our life’s goal in terms of a love story. The images we read are colorful and sensual, in a Middle Eastern sort of way. The culture from which they spring is not like our Western culture which almost takes as a given a divide between body, mind, and spirit… these readings reflect a much more holistic understanding of what it means to be human, and what it means to belong to God. So as we look at these passages we need to set aside any stained-glass images we may have of our Lord and prepare to meet someone a bit more… human… and yet at the same time very much the King of Heaven.
The first passage I want to look at, from the Song of Solomon, is a love song with multiple layers of meaning. It is a love song between a prince and a young woman. It can also be interpreted, at least to some extent, as a love song between God and God’s people. It is Jesus who calls to us saying, “arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for the winter is past, and the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come… Arise, my love, my fair one, come away.”
Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us where we will never be cold again, or sick, or weary; a place of beauty, where there’s music, and singing; where we will never be lonely or afraid ever again.
The Song of Solomon describes the lover of our souls in these words: “he comes, leaping on the mountains… like a gazelle or a young stag… gazing in windows, peeking through the lattice…” He’s playful, full of life. Jesus is no dull, boring character. He’s full of energy, and you can almost see the twinkle in his eyes. He holds out his hand and says, “come away with me!”
This heavenly romance may sound a little unusual to our ears. But the church is spoken of in scripture as the ‘Bride of Christ’. In the words of the apostle John, in Revelation:
“…the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure.” (Revelation 19:7)
John goes on to say “the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” (Revelation 19:8) – which tells us something about how we can prepare for the future, for meeting our bridegroom. John is saying that whenever we do God’s will, we are, in essence, sewing our own wedding garments. Investing in eternity. Eternal life as described in the Song of Solomon focuses on a relationship characterized by playfulness, love, and exuberance!
Psalm 45 continues the love story. The psalm is “a love song” as the subtitle says, written for the wedding (it is believed) of King Solomon to the daughter of Pharaoh around 3000 years ago. What’s even more remarkable than the antiquity of this poem is the fact that Jewish and Christian scholars actually agree on the meaning of the psalm. They agree it has two meanings: the first, the original meaning of the royal wedding in ancient Jerusalem; and the second, the wedding between the Messiah and God’s people.
It’s a wedding song! And who can resist a wedding? I remember when my husband and I got engaged, at just the mention of an upcoming wedding people would stop what they were doing and smile, even if they were having a lousy day, it would change their mood, and they would offer advice and share their experiences. There is something about a wedding that brings out the best in people, makes them shine.
When my husband and I got married, Psalm 45 set to music was the processional for our ceremony. These were the words I came down the aisle to. It was unforgettable, having the praise band and the choir I used to direct up at the Presbyterian church singing this text as I came down. This song was chosen not just because it’s a wedding song but because it’s a tribute the Lord Jesus who my husband and I both love.
Follow with me and let’s take a look at what this psalm tells us about the Messiah, remembering this song was written 1000 years before Jesus was born:
- (verse 2) Grace is on his lips. When Jesus spoke, his words were full of grace and mercy… compassion to the poor, forgiveness for the sinner.
- (v 2) God blesses him. We see this at Jesus’ baptism, when the Spirit comes down on him in the form of a dove and we hear the words from heaven, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”
- (v 3 & 4) Jesus shines with glory and majesty. When the time comes that we meet him face to face, he will take our breath away.
- (v 4) Jesus defends what is right and true.
- (v 6) Jesus’ throne endures forever. His kingdom is not of this world because this world is passing; Jesus’ kingdom is forever because it has its foundation in a world that’s forever.
- (v 6 & 7) Jesus rules fairly. He loves what is right and hates what is evil. Jesus hates evil so much that he went to the cross to destroy it and to free his people from it. In Jesus, justice and mercy become one and the same.
- (v 8) The Messiah’s palaces are made of ivory, and are full of the sound of stringed instruments, and the smell of perfume is in the air (myrrh, aloes & cassia). Jesus’ kingdom is a place of indescribable beauty.
Then the psalmist gives the bride these words (v 10 & 11): “forget your people and your father’s house; the king desires your beauty. He is your lord.” The word “forget” here is a kind of dramatic license. It doesn’t mean we should forget our loved ones. But it encourages us to look to the future and not the past, to keep our eyes on the goal. And it also means, like at a wedding, we are to ‘forsake all others and join to our spouse’, that is Jesus… being faithful to Jesus alone.
(v 13 & 14) The psalmist talks about the bride being made ready in her chamber. In ancient times preparation for a royal wedding sometimes took a year or longer. It included oil treatments, and training in royal etiquette (including practice wearing the royal robes), and learning the ways of the palace, before the bride was presented to the king. Paul tells us in II Corinthians, when we meet Jesus, “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror… are… transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (II Corinthians 3:18) And then (v 15) the bride, finally made ready, is “led to the king in many-colored robes”.
And the ceremony begins.
Who would say “no” to a royal wedding?
And yet… and yet… in Matthew 22, Jesus tells a parable of this very thing happening. He says:
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business…” (Matt 22:2-5)
The parable ends with the invited ones not attending the wedding at all, and the king going “out into the streets” and bringing in whoever he find so the wedding hall is full. (Matt 22:10)
You and I, each one of us, is personally invited to the greatest wedding in all of history. In fact, as God’s people, we are invited to be the bride of the King. Jesus has proposed, and given us the Holy Spirit as his pledge. There is no other love like this love. There is no goal for our lives greater than this. For those who love God, who receive his love and trust in Jesus as Lord, we have a royal future.
The playful lover in the Song of Solomon… and the glorious king in Psalm 45… is our bridegroom. Who would say ‘no’ to this?
Lord Jesus, thank you that we have in you both hope and a future. If there’s anyone hearing these words today who has never said ‘yes’ to you, help their hearts to say ‘yes’ to you today. Help us to keep our heavenly goal in mind as we live this life, to your honor and glory, and to our future joy, Amen.
Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church and Crafton United Methodist Church, 8/30/15 and at Incarnation Church (Anglican), Strip District, Pittsburgh, 9/6/15