By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from Hosea 14
1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
2 Take words with you
and return to the Lord;
say to him,
“Take away all guilt;
accept that which is good,
and we will offer
the fruit of our lips.
3 Assyria shall not save us;
we will not ride upon horses;
we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”
4 I will heal their disloyalty;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
5 I will be like the dew to Israel;
he shall blossom like the lily;
he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.
6 His shoots shall spread out;
his beauty shall be like the olive tree
and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
7 They shall again live beneath my shadow;
they shall flourish as a garden;
they shall blossom like the vine;
their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
8 O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
your fruit comes from me.
9 Those who are wise understand these things;
those who are discerning know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right,
and the upright walk in them,
but transgressors stumble in them.
If the erotic imagery in the Song of Songs images the love between the Covenant God and Israel, or Christ and the Church, then it should be our practice to experience the presence of God in this eros-love.
In the final chapter of Hosea, Israel’s deliverer speaks in sensuous and intimate language. In “loving them freely,” the Spirit proclaims, “I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily.” Dew on leaves is a soaking and tactile presence, enveloping and nourishing the plant. The Creator prefers close contact, not social distancing! How can we imagine God covering us like the dew?
The Gracious One describes Israel in panegyric, much like the lovers in Song of Songs do for each other. God decrees that Israel will have “a splendor like an olive tree” with a “fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.” Israel will “blossom like the vine.” By abandoning their idols and returning to the compassionate one whose ways are right, Israel rediscovers an intimate caress in which they live and move and have their being.
Hosea is already a sexually-charged book, one laced with complex relational dynamics as central metaphors for the faithfulness of God and the infidelities of Israel. Why not end with a passionate God celebrating the beauty of his beloved people?
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, California, where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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Today we pray for:
Parish of Calvary-St. George’s, New York
The Diocese of Muyinga – The Anglican Church of Burundi