BIble Study notes for Sunday September 2nd
Song of Songs 2:8-13
The theme of this week’s service is ‘The Life of Slavery and the Life of Liberty’
Read through each text slowly, whilst everyone else listens – (not following in your own bibles) – asking ‘what catches your attention in this passage? Does it leave you with questions?’
[At whatever point you have but a few minutes left for Study, Make sure to leave time at the end to read through in this way at the end – ‘What is Christ saying to his church in these verses?’ is there a message for us at St John’s? Respond in prayer]
1.Our first reading comes from the Song of Songs. This is Love poetry of the highest order. It’s place in the canon of Scripture was debated at length (the imagery it uses is at times, quite erotic). However there is a long tradition reaching back to the earliest days of the church to understand the passage in the light of the relationship between Christ and the Church. The passage we have today gives us the words of the female – which we might understand as the Church, the bride of Christ as she apprehends her lover (Christ) and hears his words.
a.What are our thoughts on this? May we understand the relationship between Christ and his church in these terms?
b.What might be the implications for the church to understand itself as the object of such love?
c.Bernard of Clairvaux (the founder of the Cistercian monastic order) wrote a commentary on Song of Songs (a series of sermons). In it he speaks of the lover as Christ and the beloved not as the church but as the individual Christian. Reading the passage in these terms, what if anything changes in our apprehension of it?
d.Bernard counsels that we cannot understand the message of Song of Songs unless we have been instructed in two other books of Wisdom literature, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. The first teaches us the folly of seeking the meaning of our lives in Love of the World. (The author follows all the paths of the world, seeking meaning in Work, in Money, in hedonistic pleasure and finds them all Vanity ‘empty’). The second is as it were a book of disciplining, of teaching, the purpose of which is to turn us from love of ourselves. Finally and only then, having been freed from false affections can the soul learn to love Christ.
i.How does love of the world and love of ourself keep us from the love of Christ?
ii.Bernard speaks of three kisses, the kiss of the feet, the kiss of the hands and the kiss of the mouth. (paralleling the three books) The first, echoing the actions of the woman who wiped Jesus feet with her hair, is where we discover foregiveness (turning away from the way of the World). The second, of the hands, is where we turn from ourselves to active service. The third is understood in terms of the union of the believer with her Lord, by the bestowal of the Holy Spirit (Jesus breathing on the disciples is in view here). The language of ascent to union with Christ is common throughout the churches history.
a.Is it a language which we know something of?
b.How helpful is it to understand this in terms of the individual as opposed to the whole body of Christ, the Church?
c.How might we understand these three kisses as expressed in the life of the church?
2.Spend a few moments now meditating in silence, first upon the Song of Songs passage and then upon James 1:17-18
d.What is the gift the Father has given us? (See 1 John 3:1, John 1:12-13)
i) Note how James starts by describing the Father as the giver and then moves on to describe the gift. Did we note that James specifies the gift, or was our initial answer to 2a in terms of other gifts? (This is a reminder that we always have to read the text closely, or we too easily read our own answers into the text)
b.Read James 1:19-20
i) Why does James insist on being quick to listen and slow to speak?
ii)This is just one example of ‘escalation’, a recurring theme in the letter – look at James 4:1-3 – all of these have their roots in our hearts. Read the gospel passage set – Note how the teaching of James closely follows that of Jesus in terms of the heart
iii)Think back to the Song of Songs passage with its theme of the love of the Church and the believer for Christ – what is the cure for the condition of our hearts?
iv) James concludes If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. So if we are to be quick to listen, to what should we be listening and how should we respond? What does it mean to ‘keep oneself unstained by the world’? ( A minor theme in contemporary Christianity??)