Breaking Open the Word: Song of Songs 1-4

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Sunday, March 3rd, 2019: Song of Songs Chapters 1-4

               Today we began discussing one of the most unusual books of the Bible: the Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon. Many have wondered how a passionate love poem without any explicit references to God ended up in the Sacred Scriptures! While it is common today to read the Song on a purely natural level as the expression of love between a man and woman, a far different interpretation has been put forward by both Jewish and Christian tradition.  In this traditional view, the Bridegroom is God, and the Bride is the People of God (and, by extension, each individual soul). In his Jesus the Bridegroom class, Dr. Brant Pitre goes into considerable detail demonstrating the truth of this interpretation, showing how descriptions of the Bridegroom and Bride are taken from texts all over the Old Testament that refer to the LORD and Israel. It was with this background that we dove into this glorious text and began to apply it to our own lives.

               As you might expect from a group of Passionists, we found a number of passages in the Song that apply beautifully to the Passion. For instance, if you read the “apple tree” in 2:3 as Christ on the Cross, then we are called to “rest in His shadow” and to taste the “fruit” of this Tree: the Eucharist. Later, the Bride calls on the Daughters of Jerusalem to behold the King “in the crown with which His mother has crowned Him on the day of His marriage, on the day of the joy of His heart” (3:11) One Sister saw in this verse an image of the Crowning with Thorns: the “mother” could represent the people from which Christ took His human nature, while the “day of His marriage” is Good Friday, when Jesus definitively won His Bride.

I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
— 2 Cor. 12:9

               Several Sisters were also intrigued by the Bridegroom’s repeated insistence that His Bride is “beautiful.” The word appears nine times in just four brief chapters – and that’s excluding synonyms! But if the Bride is humanity, or the individual human soul, how can she possibly be called beautiful? Sin and weakness mar the Bride, sometimes beyond recognition! We arrive at two perspectives that might explain this difficulty. One Sister noted the Bride’s boast in 1:5 (“I am black and beautiful”) and suggested that, though “sun” of this life “has burned” her, she sees her woundedness as a beauty because it draws down her Bridegroom’s mercy. Another explanation connects with Ezekiel 16:13-14: “You were exceedingly beautiful . . . because of My splendor which I had bestowed on you.” This beauty of the Bride is nothing she possesses in and of herself; rather, it is the reflection of the Bridegroom’s own beauty which He lavishes on her. How little we realize the incredible dignity and glory of the human soul created in the image and likeness of God!

               Finally, we touched on a verse especially dear to the Passionist nuns: “O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff . . .” (2:14) St. Paul of the Cross applied this image to his first daughters in the Passion, urging them to be the “doves of the Crucified,” to remain hidden in the wounded Heart of Jesus. Though the Lord jealously guards His contemplative souls as “a garden enclosed” (4:12), He wishes the effects of their hidden lives to reach the whole world: “Arise, north wind! Come, south wind! Blow upon My garden, that its perfumes may spread abroad!” (4:16)

               It’s a privilege to have you with us as we explore the theme of the Divine Bridegroom in the Scriptures -- join us next week as we discuss the final four chapters of the Song of Songs!