I suppose some people are getting really tired of hearing me talk about being married for 45 years. On the 23rd of June Marianne and I will have completed 45 years. My reason for bringing this up again is not to brag, but to say something about marriage. When we got married I wasn’t much of a catch. I had dropped out of high school after the tenth grade. I was 18 and was working as a guard in the county prison. Marianne had finished high school and was working as a counselor in a crisis center for runaway teens. Neither one of us had any family to rely on. We were on our own and sort of stuck with each other. I bought this ring and a matching one for Marianne and the two of us went off to North Carolina and we got married.
The first 25 years were really tough. We always had money problems and I wasn’t a very patient person. We fought all the time. We went into counseling and eventually started going to church. By the time our 25th anniversary came around we could have a nice ceremony in an Episcopal Church to renew our vows with our children, grandchildren, and friends around us.
Over the years I have had a lot of opportunity to think about marriage. When I was eighteen I thought that if we felt strongly enough about each other and had some luck we would make it. Now I realize that luck has nothing to do with it. God was looking over us the whole time, and taking care of us. I had to come to appreciate the gift of marriage the hard way.
First of all, marriage is an institution. Marriage is something we enter into. We go in and live by the rules of marriage. We promise, in public, in front of witnesses, completely freely and without coercion, to start a new life living by the rules of the institution of marriage. These rules are not arbitrary. The rules provide for a good life and the blessing of God. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to follow the rules. I wake up and say, “but today I don’t feel like it!” Sometimes you just have to decide to love her. Sometimes you just have to decide to love him.
But I don’t want to give you the impression that you have to just grit your teeth the whole time while you follow the rules of marriage. Many people think that religion (and marriage for that matter) was invented just to keep people from doing bad things.
(It is true that there is a part of the Christian tradition that embraces self-denial; fasting, vows of poverty, celibacy, etc.)
The Song of Soloman is a very short book in the OT: 117 verses. It is included in the Bible as a picture, in human terms, of the love that flows between God and His people.
Today’s text, however, (from chps. 2 & 8) is one of the readings appointed for use in our prayer book, for a celebration of a marriage. A recognition that the content is about a man and a woman.
The inclusion of The Song of Solomon in the Bible reminds us that it is simplistic to think that religion, especially Christian Faith, is only designed to make us behave like good boys and girls. (in theological terms this is called moral restraint.)
On the contrary, we believe that God made the world out of the pure joy that comes from making something – the act of creation.
And that God has given his creation the freedom to grow, develop, and change. And to take pleasure in doing these things.
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.” Genesis 1:31, RSV.
God took pleasure in making the world, and he only wants the best for us.
Song of Solomon:
“1 The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.
2 O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love is better than wine,” Song of Solomon 1:1, 2, RSV.
“5 I am very dark, but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.” Song of Solomon 1:5, RSV.
I won’t read you chapter 7, where the man tells the woman everything he likes about her body.
OK, so you get the idea. This may be a picture of God’s love for His people, but is also a picture of human love.
In the reading for today: Chapter 2, the woman is resting and thinking about how much she loves her man, and suddenly he appears at the window and speaks – he says:
“10 My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11 for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 12 The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. 13 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 2:10-13, RSV.
The man wants to get away with his woman and have a good time. It is springtime after all, and flowers are blooming and the birds are singing.
Katie and Ryan: May you have many times of recreation and refreshment.
But in Chapter 8, the woman asks the man to confront the other truth about love. It is a deadly serious business. People can get hurt. People can die.
The woman says:
“6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame. 7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned.” Song of Solomon 8:6, 7, RSV.
“6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm;
The Good News Bible makes the translation:
“Close your heart to every heart but mine; hold no one in your arms but me.”
Marriage means making a commitment, and that means making a decision to love no matter what – it means that you promise to give up other loves that could ruin this love. (Not just other women – but anything that will hurt this marriage bond).
Katie and Ryan: My prayer is that you will be content with what you have today. Jesus loves you today and the next day, and all days. Marriage means making a commitment, and that means making a decision to love no matter what. May you each grow in your desire to please your spouse, and may you learn to forgive, and may your union grow stronger and stronger through the years. Amen