Love has been the subject of songs since man first began to speak, so it’s not surprising that one has found its way into the bible!
And these verses from the Song of Solomon, or the Song of Songs, along with the text from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, are well chosen to compliment the verses from John’s Gospel of Mary’s first encounter with the risen Christ.
Upon my bed at night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
‘I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.’
I sought him, but found him not.
The sentinels found me,
as they went about in the city.
‘Have you seen him whom my soul loves?’
Scarcely had I passed them,
when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go
The Song of Solomon looks at the mystery of Love… love both sensual and spiritual… it’s a celebration of love between two people… In a religious sense it is seen by the Jewish faith as an analogy for the love between God and his people, and in Christianity the love between Christ and the Church.
Here we have two troubled hearts… In the Song, the person in question is searching the city for the lost lover… asking have you seen him whom my soul loves? The lover, once found, is held on to and taken home.
In John’s Gospel Mary Magdalene is at the tomb weeping bitterly for the loss of Jesus. Asking a man who she thinks is the gardener… where have you laid him, have you carried him away?
Today the church celebrates the festival Mary Magdalene – but who was she?
She probably hailed from a village called Magdala on the western shore of the sea of Galilee, so she was called Magdalene to distinguish her from all the other Marys who followed Jesus.
She’d been healed by Jesus. We don’t know what the problem was, but it may have been some severe emotional of psychological trauma.
She was one of the women who supported Jesus’ ministry – probably wealthy – she’s often listed first in the Gospels lists of women who were with Jesus, so someone of importance in that group.
All the gospels agree that she witnessed the crucifixion, and here in John’s account we find her as the first to meet Jesus in his resurrected state.
There are many stories surrounding the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Authors such as Dan Brown and Graham Hancock would have us believe that they did, in fact marry, that there was a child, and that after the Crucifixion both Mary and child were spirited away to live in what is now the south of France. Others would have us think that Jesus and Mary were lovers. And every so often a fragment of Gnostic gospel comes to light that appears to support these theories. However Scholars are very, very cautious about giving credence to any of these ideas.
I’m no scholar, but I do think that there was a close relationship, not a marriage, maybe not a physical union… and the reason why not is… because of love.
Jesus was both human and divine, as a human he was a good caring loving man, as divine he knew exactly where he was heading when he began his ministry.
I don’t think he would marry knowing that he would be leaving his wife a widow within a short time, I don’t think he would father a child, knowing that if the authorities would not suffer the father to live, and then perhaps they would take mother and child too.
After all when he was newly born, that’s exactly what Herod tried to do to him.
True love is not selfish… it’s about caring for someone else, not just your own pleasure and comfort.
So here we are with Mary weeping at the tomb…
For love is cross-shaped… it can bring great joy, but also great sorrow… anyone who has loved someone and then lost them, knows how she feels at this moment.
But there are two sides to the cross… one of pain, the one presented to us on Good Friday, and then there is the other side, the one we see today. Where everything is changed forever.
Everything was fulfilled in Jesus Christ and now all is new, all is different.
And so Mary kneels weeping for the second time… once at the foot of the cross and now again here… or maybe she hasn’t stopped shedding tears for three days now. No wonder her eyes are swollen and she can’t see properly. And if we wonder about that, why she couldn’t see… well she wasn’t the only one. The disciples on the road to Emmaus failed to recognise him also. It’s as though we need something else to jog us into recognising his risen body… the breaking of bread, the calling of our names.
And now all changes… for with the calling of her name “Mary”… she sees who it is in the garden with her.
And if you suddenly saw the one person you thought you had lost for ever… wouldn’t you run to them, want to hold them?
But Jesus says no… Do not hold on to me, do not cling to me… I have not yet ascended to my father… sounds a bit strange doesn’t it… almost as if Mary mustn’t touch because the paint is not dry yet on his newly risen body…
But I don’t think so… because very shortly he will invite Thomas to touch him…
If Mary were to cling to him… she would only end up being bereaved all over again. She needs to let him go, needs not to cling to him in her heart in his physical form. For everything is now changed.
Which is exactly what Paul is saying to the Corinthians… he is asking them to see the world with the new eyes of the gospel rather than everything still being the same way that it always was.
For the way of Christ, built on love, challenges old beliefs which hurt and exclude people… something we need to remember in our own times.
And it’s love for our God and for our fellow human beings that inspires us as Christians and members of our communities. Giving up time to volunteer… not just in the church, but out in the community… following a vocation and training for a number of years to either lay or ordained ministry.
Out of love for our neighbours the future of the church is one that I think to a certain extent lies outside our four walls. Going out into the community as church to help, support, to evangelise by people getting to know us through what we do and that church isn’t full of boring, uptight people who are ready to condemn at the drop of a hat.
Coming back into the building for refreshment and inspiration through our worship and being ready to always to show anyone who walks through that door our very best St. Matthew’s welcome in the name of the one whom our soul loves. Why? Because the love of Christ urges us on.
2 Corinthians 5.14-17
John 20.1-2, 11-18
Song of Solomon (Songs) 3. 1-4