He calls to us. “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Will we yield to his call? Will we cross over the wall we have built between him and us? He has come to us eagerly, longingly, leaping on the mountains, bounding over hills: noble, graceful, delighted with us, yearning for us. Not content to wait for us to show up at his doorstep, he has come to our house, he has peered in through our windows, and, seeing that we are still here, he has cried to us, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” There’s no recklessness in his call; he comes to us with abandon, but he also knows it is the right season for love: winter is past, flowers bloom, figs ripen, cultivated vines show their blossoms. Creation plays peacock while our Lord prances to meet us, but we wait to hear his voice. Will we shy away, or will we embrace his transport and delight? Continue reading
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.
For every one of us gathered here this morning, love has a voice. The voice of love is more than a sound. It is not just something we hear and recognize. Love’s voice speaks to our hearts as much as to our ears. The voice of love is the voice of intimacy and of gentleness, the voice of caresses and of tears, the voice of caring and of concern. It is the voice we know more than any other in the whole world. For Isaac, in our reading from Genesis this morning, the voice of love was Rebekah’s voice, the voice of the woman Isaac loved more than any other, the woman who comforted him after his mother’s death. For some of us here this morning, love’s voice is the voice of the one seated next to us right now, or maybe the voice of one just across the room. For others of us, love’s voice has gone quiet; it is a voice not heard for far too long. Still, all of us, I think, know love’s voice. We know the voice of the one we love, of the friend, or the parent, or the spouse—of the one we call beloved. For every one of us gathered here this morning, love has a voice.
The beautiful thing about love’s voice is that it is so powerful, so—deep, that the moment we hear it is like the very first moment of spring. Its sound cracks through winter’s ice, brings joy to what was dark and bleak, erupts in delight, and flowers forth in full color—especially when we have been separated from the voice of our beloved. Separation, just like the seasons, is, at least in this world, a part of the natural rhythms of love and of life. We cannot be present with our beloved at all times and in all places. But separation—whether of distance, of time, of a failed relationship, or of the loss of our beloved to age or illness—separation is also a form of death. And in those times of separation, if we could but hear love’s voice again, it would be a foretaste of the resurrection.
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.”
For Israel, the voice of the beloved is the voice of the Lord. The Lord takes Israel to be his bride; he woos her with the seductive poetry of the Song of Songs, the Song of Solomon, the Song—the only Song. From the earliest days of creation, the Lord entices Israel into the garden he has prepared for her: Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. Adam, Israel’s first forefather (and ours), does arise, but only to fall away. He sets up a pattern that Israel follows over and over—one that I’m sure each of us also knows all too well. Adam turns from the flowers and singing and turtledoves and fig trees of the Lord’s garden to the thistles and thorns and weeds of a garden of his own making. The Lord calls again—arise my love, my fair one!—to Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and his sons, then to Moses and Israel in bondage. At last Israel does arise and follows the Lord—only to turn from him in the wilderness on the threshold of the Promised Land.
Again and again, through prophets and psalms, through poetry and kings, the Lord calls. All too often, Israel ignores the voice of her beloved. She finds other gods—other so-called gods—for quick-fix pleasures and short-term flings. But no love can satisfy like the love of God, and when Israel does heed the voice of her loving Lord, she discovers his generosity, forgiveness, and mercy.
“The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.”
More often than not, Israel’s story is a story of failing to hear the voice of her beloved. Is there no one faithful to be found in Israel? In the beginning of Luke’s gospel we find one who is and has been faithful, who represents Israel in her life before God: Mary, the mother of Jesus. Hearing the good news of God’s love—God’s favor—for her from the angel Gabriel, Mary does not say, “I am too old,” the way Sarah did, or “Send someone else,” the way Moses did. She is faithful to God’s love, and she responds, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.” By the power of the Holy Spirit, her faithfulness, her love of God’s love for her, bears fruit worthy of God’s love. In Mary, Israel is no barren tree condemned to wither and die. Israel is the fig tree that puts forth its figs, the vine that blossoms in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus enables and completes the faithfulness of Mary and of Israel by responding to God’s love fully in ways no other person could do. Jesus is God’s beloved and God’s son, fully human and fully divine. Jesus is the one who first hears at his baptism, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Listen to him! The voice of Jesus is the voice of Love! Jesus calls out, “Come and follow me.” He speaks, and his sheep hear and know his voice. Jesus calls together the disciples, he gathers the church together with his voice of love. We hear his voice in our gospel reading this morning: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Arise, my love, and come away, for now the winter is past.
The church is Christ’s bride, his beloved. By loving the church, Christ makes the church lovely. If we burn with desire and love for our Lord—the very desire and love given to us by Christ in the Holy Spirit—we will be adorned with the most beautiful of wedding garments for a feast like none other. Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away, for now the winter is past.
My beloved is mine and I am his; he pastures his flock among the lilies.
This verse, which comes just a few verses after what we already read this morning, is crucial.
God in Christ loves the church, and he loves each of her members, from the least to the greatest. His love is for all of us, for those in our midst and for the saints who have come before us, for those we ourselves love and for those we cannot stand, for those who think they know the gospel and for those we think need it.
At the waters of baptism, through Christ, God spoke to each of us. In Christ, at the waters, God declared, you are my daughter; you are my son. In you I am well pleased. The Lord offered his voice as the voice of our lover. He invited us to speak words of love in return: My beloved is mine and I am his; he pastures his flock among the lilies. What did you say?
Each Sunday, each time we celebrate Holy Communion, the Lord says to us again, Arise my love, my fair one, and come away. What will you say? Will you say to him, My beloved is mine and I am his? Or will you keep silent?
For every one of us gathered here this morning, love has a voice. 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.
My beloved is mine, and I am his. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!