As a lily among brambles, so is my love among maidens.
As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his intention towards me was love.
Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples; for I am faint with love.
O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me!
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the wild does: do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!
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 turtle-dove 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.
How will we read this Song of Songs? We could try, as much as possible, to read every erotic word as a metaphor for the deepest love a worshipper can show to God. The opposite is to read as plainly as possible, sitting with surface meanings of human desire. Another strategy is to read resonantly. Let these words call out to other Biblical words, to other stories, to modern life, even in ways that the author could never have intended or imagined.
Reading resonantly, Christians find Christ all over this chapter. Think back to the esoteric Sunday School sing-a-long: “he brought me to his banqueting table and his banner over me is love” (2.4) in which all the words are straight out of Scripture but the connection of Jesus the vine and the Song of Songs lover makes no sense.
The carol service lyrics of “Christ the apple tree” also take inspiration from this chapter. Here faith is at death’s door but the apples from Christ’s tree nourish and revive it. We’ll read some words from this song in our prayer. Its food as faith metaphor invites us to reflect upon the state of our soul: are you already full to bursting with love for God or desperate to eat a little to survive another day?
There are resonances too of the days after the flood, a time when the dove returned to the land and flowers reappeared on the earth. This connection to Noah’s household preparing to leave their water-born refuge after a season of death may not be intended by the singer, but resonates now, as waves of Covid infection have risen and fallen, and we look for signs that the time of singing can come again.
Hopefulness and weariness are intertwined in these verses. How often they are found together, but sometimes they are poles apart. Notice which one is dominant in yourself and your community at present. How is God speaking into that experience?
As you prepare to pray, reflect on this verse*:
I’m weary with my former toil – Here I will sit and rest awhile, Under the shadow I will be, Of Jesus Christ the Appletree.
Jesus, let me seek my rest in you. Let me feed upon your love, and approach this day with what I need, with at least enough, and the promise of rest at its end. Amen.
*”The Tree of Life My Soul Hath Seen” was published by R.H. in 1761 and is known as Christ the apple tree.
The Rev’d Dr ‘frin Lewis-Smith is a Healthcare Chaplain and a member of The Church at the Centre, Bolton