As I was preparing breakfast this morning I listened to the radio. The host and another radio person were talking about what one ought to do with the ashes of a deceased loved one.
One said that his father’s wish was for his ashes to be scattered over Old Trafford, the ground where Manchester United plays their soccer near the village of Carrington, Greater Manchester, England. Naturally, this would be near impossible.
They put a question out to their listeners asking for ideas how ashes could be either scattered or preserved. One person called in saying they make necklaces with a type of locket … and they put some of the ashes in the locket. The idea is that the deceased is “close to your heart”.
I recall a family that was having interpersonal conflicts within the home and with the extended family. As we were discussing this problem, it came out that the ashes of one of the parents were in the lounge on top of a display unit. I asked why they had kept the ashes in their home, and they responded with all the emotional and sentimental answers. I suggested that they had not had closure with the death because the “parent” was not properly disposed of. As soon as I said this (parent in place of ashes), the penny dropped. As soon as they could they disposed of the ashes, the home and extended family conflict were no more. There has also been a longstanding question about whether cremations are Biblical or not. We’ll get to that soon …
The apostle John provides us with an account of Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus … who died. Please read the whole passage.
Jn 11:1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
Although Jesus was moved, He delayed going to see Lazarus, Eventually when He arrived, Lazarus was dead and buried.
Jn 11:17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
The Judeo tradition was to bury in a tomb where possible. The burial process was similar to that of Jesus’ where the corpse was wrapped in linen cloth with layers of spices to attempt to counter the decaying smell.
Jn 19:40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.
Jn 11:38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Lazarus had been dead and buried now for four days! As Martha said, “there is a bad odor” … not there might be, but there is a bad odor. It could take a corpse between eight to ten years, depending on the conditions (heat, moisture, water), buried six feet down in a coffin to decompose to a skeleton. The skeleton could take up to 100 years to decompose … even though the decomposition starts a few moments after death. Another thing about burial is that “burial land” (cemetery land) across the world is becoming less. This has forced countries to consider cremation. Cremation is not a modern practice though. It has been around for thousands of years. Some examples are:
1Sa 31:11 When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard of what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their valiant men journeyed through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days.
Am 6:8 The Sovereign LORD has sworn by himself—the LORD God Almighty declares: “I abhor the pride of Jacob and detest his fortresses; I will deliver up the city and everything in it.”
9 If ten men are left in one house, they too will die. 10 And if a relative who is to burn the bodies comes to carry them out of the house and asks anyone still hiding there, “Is anyone with you?” and he says, “No,” then he will say, “Hush! We must not mention the name of the LORD.” 11 For the LORD has given the command, and he will smash the great house into pieces and the small house into bits.
The process of decomposing of the body is ‘hurried up’ through cremation. At times, those who died at sea were buried in the waters at sea. I would assume the process of decomposition would be hastened there too. Personally, I am not for or against any mode of burial. The choice is personal. Either the deceased could request the type of disposal or the family could decide. The issue is personal. No one ought to coerce a family to do something against their will.
The bigger issue is that the body is disposed of reverently and compassionately where Christians and non-Christians present hear the Gospel explained and the hope of glory highlighted. As you are aware, the Corinthian Church had many theological issues that needed explaining. One was about death and what happens at death and after death. Please take time to read chapter 15 of Paul’s first letter to them. Like then, like now many are confused about which burial, especially as cremation means ‘burning’. Paul, guided by the Spirit, helps us here:
1Co 15:42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
Whether the body decomposes in the grave or tomb, whether it is cremated or buried at sea … it is raised a spiritual body if you are born again! This the Bible teaches, and this is what we as believers need to believe!
Dear God, how we look forward to the New Creation and to be with you in glory. Please comfort those who are struggling with recent bereavements. Help us to acknowledge that it’s not the type of burial we select that is important but the Saviour we chose to follow that is important. O how I love Jesus for what He did for me. Amen.