By Pastor Robin Wells
“I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” This is a song of confession from Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, a musical that I watched for the very first time this week, believe it or not. In some sense, the song is one that belongs to all of us in our relationship with Jesus. We don’t know how to love Jesus until we have experienced God’s unconditional love in our own lives—total acceptance, love with no strings attached.
In Mary Magdalene’s song we see how easily one can become worked up by a love so freely given and life changing. As Christians, we might be challenged by this song which lifts up a popular conception about love—that the change love brings about in our lives and in our very being is something to be feared.
However, the scriptures tell us that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and that is love’s true labor—to ease worries, to calm anxieties, to rest assured on God’s promises. . . to trust in another. The scripture from 1 John goes on to say that fear in love is not a perfect love because the fear comes from the threat of being punished. Being perfected in love, holy love, means receiving the rewards and benefits of that which leads to holiness or sanctification in God’s love.
How that actually happens—the process of being perfected in God’s love, will be different for each of us,but it requires of all of us that we be brave—that we have the courage, the heart, to be moved and to be changed so that we may be more like Christ and His love.
So often in the church we tend to sanitize and spiritualize our notions of love, and yet we have these wonderful texts from the Song of Songs that are romantic love poetry. We are reminded that sensual love that depicts the blooming romance of lovers is a good and holy thing.
The luscious and sensual imagery of the lovers beckoning to one another is a reflection of the natural world God made in God’s love for us. The garden imagery of land and sky, flora and fauna, take us back to the original Garden of Eden and the proto-couple, Adam and Eve. But this time, in the Song of Songs, the couple is not expelled from the garden, punished for their disobedience. No. In this scene, one lover encourages the other to “rise up, my dearest, my fairest, and go.” The one lover encourages the other to be brave and to follow where love leads.
In our Gospel lesson, Love leads us to where the human love of law and tradition are in direct conflict with God’s grace and transformative love. Jesus in speaking to the Pharisees and legal experts points us to the hypocrisy of the faith community when it keeps rules that are not in alignment with God’s love for all.