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Altogether Lovely

His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem. Song of Songs 5.16.

As it stands, the Song of Songs is merely a very beautiful poem, traditionally ascribed to Solomon and tagged on at the end of the other Old Testament books ascribed to him — Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. On the face of it, it simply describes the wooing of a beautiful maiden by a shepherd-king; but even the earliest Jewish interpreters of the poem saw it as doing more than that. It was an allegory, they said, of the love of Yahweh for Israel. And, for centuries, Christians have read the Song of Songs in that way too, but have seen it as a description of the intimate relationship that exists between Jesus and his church. He is the “lover” and the church is the “beloved”.

Not surprising then that the words of some well-known Christian songs and choruses have come straight from its pages … “I am my beloved and he is mine, and his banner over me is love” (from Song of Songs 2.4 and16); and the chorus of Tim Hughes’ “Light of the World” which echoes this morning’s text in its fourth line …

So here I am to worship,
here I am to bow down,
here I am to say that You’re my God;
and You’re altogether lovely,
altogether worthy,
altogether wonderful to me.

As a man, I personally love singing these words, but I still find it very moving whenever I see (as I often do) other men — even big, burly ‘men’s men’ — singing out in worship about the beauty of the Lord, about the loveliness of Jesus. And I sometimes ask myself where that comes from.

Isaiah, reporting back from the prophetic future where he saw Jesus going as a lamb to the slaughter — Yahweh’s “suffering servant” — said that “he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53.2). But Isaiah was seeing him torn and bruised and beaten and dying on the cross. No outward beauty then, certainly.

Yet I, never having seen Jesus in the flesh (or even in vision, for that matter), do see his beauty and have had my heart won by his loveliness. How is that so?

The answer lies in the work of the Holy Spirit. Talking of the Spirit whom he would send when he had left this world, Jesus told his followers: “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you … In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me” (John 16.14, 16).

I see the beauty of Jesus and see that he is altogether lovely not with the eyes of faith but through the eyes of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus has put into my heart. It is a beauty that I experience on a level way beyond anything erotic or sexual, which is why, as a heterosexual man, I find nothing embarassing or strange in singing of my love for Jesus. I experience his beauty, not through my five senses, but through some sixth sense that operates in the realm of the spirit. And for that I am very, very grateful.

You are beautiful beyond description,
too marvellous for words,
too wonderful for comprehension,
like nothing ever seen or heard.
Who can grasp your infinite wisdom?
Who can fathom the depth of your love?
You are beautiful beyond description,
Majesty, enthroned above.

Mark Altrogge.

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