By: The Rev. Dr. Hannah Adams Ingram
When I read the snipped of Song of Songs from this week, I can’t help but think of a popular TikTok trend where the performer pretends to be an English teacher 100 years in the future reading today’s pop music hits like they are classical poetry with deep and rich meaning to them. In these videos, you see a serious teacher reading the lyrics of “WAP,” explaining to the theoretical high school students some metaphorical meaning to the song, and the joke lies in the fact that we experience the song now as just a joyful ode to women’s sexuality and that perhaps when we over-analyze poetry of old, we may be missing a simpler meaning.
Preachers who find themselves in the late summer months planning a sermon might choose to do a literary analysis of Song of Songs, sure, but they should also grant themselves permission to preach on embodied joy, as found in a straight reading of this text. Perhaps there are congregations looking for a taste of that which is good, and this week’s Song of Songs text might be a foray into that celebration of goodness this week.
If I were to preach on this Song of Solomon text and expand it into a lesson about the entire book, I might also tap into people’s heightened insecurities right now about their bodies, many of which have changed during the pandemic. I might try to connect Song of Solomon as a book on embodied joy and pleasure with a reminder that their bodies are good and deserving of appreciation and pleasure after a hard year.
A different question to bring to this text would be about the transition back to physical proximity with others in safe ways as more and more churches and other social groups are reopening. Approaching this passage in that way may highlight some tensions between the passage and our own experience—as we do not know yet if “the rain is over and gone.” In fact, changing strands of COVID-19 persists and racial injustice will take longer than a few month to address, but there is an electricity in the air about coming out of the shadows of social distance and blossoming anew. Could this text help us consider joyful transitions, even as we are cautious? If I went in this direction, I might connect this reading with this week’s reading in James, as many congregations have dealt with conflicts as they have sought to make safe decisions about resuming in-person worship services.
Some congregations have also faced a temptation to deny the real ministry that persisted during virtual worship in an effort to return to “normal.” The reminder in James of what true religion looks like, and even the Gospel reading of the week, might be a helpful reframing in the visioning conversations for this transition time of ministry. The passages in James or Mark could illumine what is important for a church to consider as they make more difficult decisions after a whole sixteen months of difficult decisions. What might it look like to prioritize God over human tradition? This question itself is bold when it contrasts with congregational conversations of returning “back to normal.”
There may be a way forward to celebrate joy and challenge us amidst conflicts and hard decision-making. In fact, the joy sustains us and gives us purpose to persist when it is hard to know how to move forward. As I think of preaching this week’s texts, I find myself wondering what the congregation needs and how to offer care in this moment. May God be with you as you seek an answer to the same.