The Blessing of Community
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Last weekend I was at a wedding for my sister-in-law Rachel and her now husband Kevin.
[One moment that is worth mentioning from the wedding was the prayer before we ate. The bride’s uncle, a retired minister gathered to offer us a blessing before we ate. As he prayed, the whole place became silent. Except for one family member way in the back whose hearing wasn’t very good. From where I was sitting you could hear a very loud voice asking, “What’s he saying? What’s going on? Why is everyone quiet?”
Then another voice next to him spoke up. “Shhh! He is saying grace.”
That was followed back by an even louder, “What? What did you say?”
“He’s saying grace.”
Then, finally, “Oh…who’s Grace? I don’t know her.”]
There was a lot of laughter and celebration that day. It was a beautiful service, and the reception was at this incredible, historic, restored building in downtown Lynchburg. A cousin of the bride’s had spent the day before setting up lighting throughout the whole venue to be just perfect for the day. So as we danced and sang, cried and laughed, told old stories and gave toasts, every face shined brightly with joy and love.
But it was more than the lights that day that brought joy to the faces of the bride and groom. What made this such a wonderful day for the two of them wasn’t the decor or the cake or the clothes or even the venue. What made it such a wonderful day for these two individuals was the people they were celebrating the day with.
A week before the wedding, the couple told me that one thing that meant so much to their relationship was community. Their love and their relationship was surrounded by it. In their years of dating and growing and learning to love one another, they knew it wasn’t always easy, and won’t always be easy going forward. In those moments, it was the people who continued to stand by them, to support them, to love them, listen to them, cry with them, laugh with them, and welcome them who made it so that they got to this point. Their relationship needed people who had strengthened and blessed them and encouraged them on. This wedding wasn’t just a celebration of two people’s love. It was a celebration of all the people who had been a part of their journey. It was a celebration of community.
Our scripture reading this morning is from the Song of Songs, also called the Song of Solomon. It is one of only two books in the Bible that never mentions God, the other one being the Book of Esther. And this book especially seems to be an odd choice to be a part of holy scripture. It is a love poem between two young people head over heels for one another. And quite opposite from some periods of church history, this book views both romance and sex as two positive and beautiful aspects of life and creation. Over the centuries, this book has also been read as a metaphor for Israel’s love of God, the church’s love of God, and finally, God’s unending love for humanity. Today there is a lot of debate on how we should read this book. Should we read it more literally– as two young people in romantic love? Or should we read it metaphorically – as the love between God and humanity?
For myself, I would rather not choose. Because I think both readings reflect truth about God’s plan for us. We are meant to know love – both by people and by God. We are meant to live not alone, but surrounded by others, in good times and in bad. While God is not explicitly mentioned in this book, it does point us back to God’s words to us in the Garden of Eden:
“It is not good for man to be alone. I will make him a helper as his partner.”
From the very beginning God did not want us to be alone. God wanted us to know romance. God wanted us to know friendship. God wanted us to know love and play and fellowship with one another. God wanted us to know community.
In this specific passage, the woman is writing about how she now sees the world differently with another person in it. The location where she is writing is Sharon. It is the region where we get the phrase “rose of Sharon.” But as Old Testament scholar John Goldingay writes, “Sharon itself is the marshy coastal area of Israel.” It was not considered a beautiful place before this poem. There is even mention later on in this chapter of dangerous and sharp cliffs and crags, and thorns growing up and covering the flowers. But with someone she loves by her side, the writer sees this land in a whole new light:
“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.”
Community gives us a new lens from which to view creation itself. The world and all that is in it is made more beautiful and joyful and lovely when we have someone to share it with.
And that is not true just with romantic love. It is true with all forms of love and community. It is true with a good friend who you can talk to about anything. It is true with a family member who is always ready to be there. It is true with neighbors who welcome you in to their lives and homes. It is true whenever someone lets you know, “You belong here with me.”
Community in all of its forms is a blessing and gift given to us from God. That is why we meet as a community here. Two weeks ago, I was visiting Ruth Low, and she told me something that I don’t think she has told anyone before. She might kill me for saying this, but I think you all should know it. She said that here in this church, here at Stone House, she learned for the first time the true value of friendship and community. The way you all welcome her and care about her and don’t judge her made her realize just what a treasure friendship is. And over the years that friendship and community has meant more and more and more to her. And I am sure that she is not alone in feeling that way. Community matters here. From the time we are blessed and baptized to the time we say goodbye to this world, the church tells us that we are not alone. We are surrounded by people who love us and support us and walk with us in all that life throws our way.
But we are also called to be a blessing of community outside of these doors. We are meant to welcome neighbors of all religions and backgrounds. We are meant to love and stick with our family members even when they may frustrate us and annoy us and disagree with us. We are meant to develop friendships and relationships and get to know one another‘s stories. And whether your community is large or small is not the point. It is the depth of the love and the care and the time, much more than the number, that make those relationships a true blessing.
This past weekend at the wedding I was reminded of how beautiful and joyous this world can be when shared with a community. Whether it is in telling funny stories or dancing or making a fool of yourself, life is better with people who love you by your side. The Song of Songs tells us the same message. God has made us to not journey this life alone. God is a God of community, of love, of fellowship, of beauty and life. And God wants all of that for you and for me. Amen.