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One Equal Music 3

Written by Philippa White, posted on Sunday, April 26, 2020

Manuscript musicSet me as a seal

The Old Testament readings for Evensong in the week after Easter are always from the Song of Songs: a book of passionate love poetry (sometimes so passionate it’s awkward to listen to!).  While it was written as just that, as poetry describing a passionate relationship, the early Church interpreted this book as referring primarily to the love between Christ and his bride, the Church. This is an image from the New Testament, especially from the book of Revelation: Jesus is described as the one who woos and wins humanity, and those who hear his call become the Church, personified as the bride of Christ.

That’s why it is read in Easter week, when we recall Christ’s love demonstrated supremely in the events of the first Easter: his suffering on the cross, willing submission to death for the sake of humanity, burial, and finally resurrection to new life. These are Christ’s acts of love.  Christ demonstrates how much God loves us, and also creates something new: a new relationship between God and humanity.  Christ loves us so much that he lays down his life for us; Christ’s death makes the people of God the bride of Christ.

This anthem sets one of the best-known phrases from the book of the Song of Songs (8: 6-7):

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm:

for love is strong as death;
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.

Soundcloud icon Set Me As A Seal 

It’s often read at weddings, and this setting was composed by William Walton (1902-1983) in 1938 for the wedding of the son of a friend. At a wedding, it’s a statement of commitment and intention between the couple: their love will last until death, will not be quenched by difficulty or danger.

But listening to it in this Easter season, I invite you to imagine, like early Christians, that these words are being spoken by the risen Christ to the Church as a whole – and to each one of us. Jesus says: set me as a seal on your heart and on your arm. My love is strong as death – and stronger, for did I not face and overcome death for you? My love cannot be quenched by many waters or by floods – by the floods of death, by the floods of the Red Sea. I experienced death for you – nothing can ever overcome my love for you.

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