John's Use of the Song in his Resurrection Narrative
April 12, 2020
Don’t you love it when you hear a sermon, a very good sermon, and it overflows with fruitfulness as you find all kinds of intertextual references connecting to your own private Scripture reading? That happened to me today, as my pastor preached on John 20 and the resurrection of Christ. I saw the Song of Songs everywhere, as well as Revelation connections. This is all fitting, as I have been already looking into John’s use of the Song. My mind was reeling, so I wrote a bit of a stream of conscious style piece while cooking my Easter feast (which makes me want to include the feasting language in the Song associated with the presence of the Groom, but enough Aimee!)
The Searching Bride
It’s the first Easter morning, and yet Christ’s people don’t know it yet. All they know is that tomb is empty. They are still experiencing darkness, like the dreaming bride in the Song of Songs, searching for clues. While it was so early that it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb discovering that the stone was rolled away! Where is he? Where is the one whom her soul loves? That’s what the bride in the Song asks. She sought him but did not find him (SoS 3:2). Mary Magdalene runs to the disciples, frantically reporting that she does not know where they put him (John 20:2). They all run back, finding evidence of the linen cloths lying there and wrapping that once was around Jesus’s head, now folded off by itself (John 20:3-10). Where is he? Where is the one whom their souls loved? It’s Easter morning and they do not know yet. It is bursting with the spring of new life, but they are still experiencing darkness. They still have not heard the Bridegroom sing the Song in the night to his love, “Arise, my darling. Come away, my beautiful one. For now, the winter is past; the rain has ended and gone away” (SoS 2:10-11). They did not have the understanding to sing out in response, “Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, turn around, my love, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the divided mountains” (SoS 2:17).
The disciples return to where Mary found them, but Mary stays outside the tomb, crying. She should have known that he feeds among the lilies (SoS 2:16). He was with her all along. The Lord is with his people. That’s where she will find him. “My love has gone down to his garden, to beds of spice, to feed in the gardens and gather lilies. I am my lover’s and my lover is mine; he feeds among the lilies” (SoS 6:2-3). The Bridegroom asks her why she is crying and whom she is seeking. She mistakes him for the gardener (John 20:14-15). Ah yes, the gardener---he is! There the Groom, the second Adam, is in his garden. We see hints of Eden, and proleptic notions to the true city/garden/temple, the typology of which the bride herself points (Rev. 21). He feeds among the lilies! And she is like a lily among thorns (SoS 2:2).
The Clinging Bride
“Mary,” he calls her by name. Ah, recognition! It is him! She found the one she loved, held on to him and would not let him go (SoS 3:4ab). Of course she would! But it is not the right time. She may not take him to her mother’s house---the chamber of the one who conceived her (SoS 3:4cd). He tells her, “’Don’t cling to me…since I have not yet ascended to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). That time will come for the bride, but not yet. Not yet (Rev. 12).
The Bride Who Finds Peace
We will get back to Mary, but first a quick fast-forward to after she announces the good news. Jesus seeks out the other disciples. Ah, how the bride fails. We sleep. We sin. We seek but cannot find. But the Groom will come to her. The disciples are gathered together with the doors locked out of fear of persecution. They do not even need to rise to open for their love. He appears, not with condemnation, but proclaiming, “Peace be with you…Peace to you” (John 20:19-21). Oh, how their very guts must have stirred within them (SoS 5:4)! The bride has found peace! The bride is a fortress who finds her peace in the Groom’s eyes (SoS 8:10). He breathes on the disciples, telling them to receive the Spirit, for it is coming! Of course! In the beginning of the Song, the Groom tells his bride that she has dove’s eyes (1:15). When he sees her, he sees his own Spirit, represented by the dove (John 1:32). He is present with her. The dove/turtledove is mentioned 7 times in the Song describing mainly the bride, but also the Groom’s eyes and spring in the land. The LORD of armies, who is our refuge (Ps. 46:1), brings peace by his Spirit. Christ is the true Solomon.
The bride/Shulamite is Jerusalem/Shalem, peace, the feminine of Solomon. This is possibly combined with Shunamite women of 2 Kings 4:8-37, whom Elijah promises will “embrace a son.” She does give birth to a son, and later when he dies, she seeks out Elijah and clings to him, holding him to his promise that she would have a son and so he brings him back to life (possibly points to Jerusalem’s children restored from living death after the exile, but also points us to Rev. 12). Also, there’s the Shunamite woman, Abishtag, in 1 Kings 1-2, the young, beautiful caretaker of David through his dying days and the “accompaniment to royal power” (and victim of it), as Solomon kills his brother Adonijah for asking Solomon’s mother Bathsheba to make request to Solomon for him to marry her. Solomon rightly saw this as a manipulative bid for the throne. While our Shulamite in the Song “embodies power. Ultimately, with her lover the ‘king’ (7:5, see also 1:4, 12), she calls into question royal pretentions to power (8:11-12). Thus she represents the incorporation and integrity of power---in a woman, in a united people, in a soul unified in its devotion to one ‘Beloved’ (VV. 10-13)” (Ellen Davis, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, 291). In these combinations of Jerusalem/feminine of Solomon/Shunammite, we have the Shulamite, the city of peace associated with woman at peace. She calls herself a fortress saying, “I am a wall and my breasts like towers. So in his eyes I have become like one who finds peace” (SoS 8:10).
The Commissioned Bride
It may not be time to cling to the Groom yet, but it is time to spread the good news! He tells her, “You who dwell in the gardens, companions are listening for your voice; let me hear you!” (SoS 8:13). “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them what he had said to her” (John 20:18). After appearing to the other disciples, he sends them as well to spread the good news of the forgiveness of sins (John 20:21-23). The Bridegroom brings peace to his people. And the Bride joins her voice to the Spirit’s, beckoning her brothers and sisters to “come.” “Both the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ Let anyone who hears, say, ‘Come!’” (Rev. 22:17ab).
“He who testifies about these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen! Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). “Run away with me, my love, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices” (SoS 8:14).