Monday, February 12, 2007

Cremation or Burial? Does it Matter?

You may remember that I'm working on a series set in a funeral home. (Trust me, the series isn't funereal. It's really rather humorous.)

To support the series, of course, I've had to do a lot of research in the areas of death and dying. And while doing that research, I've become convinced that if given a choice between cremation and burial, I'll take burial. Why?

A couple of reasons, actually. First, burial is the biblical example. All of the patriarchs were buried, and their bodies lovingly cared for. Think of Joseph asking that his bones be carried back to the Promised Land. Think of Abraham buying land to bury his beloved wife, Sarah. Only the pagan nations burned their dead.

Second, God created man body and soul. We are bipartite creatures. And I think lovingly tucking the body away in a "casket" (definition: a container for treasured things) shows more respect that burning something up.
Third, burial is a metaphor. Just as we are baptized under the water and brought up as a picture of Christ's death and resurrection, so our burial is a picture of us "sleeping" and waiting for the resurrection . . . and there's nothing metaphorical about that.

I found this quote in an online article:

Burial is a fitting earthly end to the life of a faithful Christian, a Christian who has been “buried with Christ in baptism” and is waiting to be raised with him in glory (Rom. 6:4). A Christian burial does not mean that we are “in denial” about the decomposition of bodies—that is part of the Edenic curse (Gen. 3:19). It does mean that this decomposition is not what, in this act of worship, we proclaim as the ultimate truth about the one to whom we’ve said goodbye.

Burial conveys the image of sleep, the metaphor Jesus and his apostles used repeatedly for the believing dead (John 11:11; 1 Cor. 15:51; 1 Thess. 4:13–14). It conveys a message, a message quite different from that of a body already speed-decayed, a body consumed by fire.


Of course, God can reconstruct any body, one that's been turned to ashes or one that's turned back into the "dust" from which it came; that's not the point. The point is that in our choice, we have an opportunity to paint a word picture and give a testimony even in this choice. So, given the option between cremation and burial, I'll take the one that looks like putting me down for a nice nap.
I think there's something comforting about laying a loved one to rest and waiting for the expectation of resurrection. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think an urn on the mantle says quite the same thing.

Just my two cents.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate the perspective. I have tossed the cremation around in my mind a few times, but your "two cents" makes 'sense'.

Anonymous said...

Having buried one parent and cremated another, all the metaphor in the world doesn't lessen the loss or the pain. I wish I had something romantic to say about either one, but for me, it didn't matter, they were with the Lord, and I was left here. (Thank goodness! I mean, I miss them, but I'm thankful God's still got plans for me here with my husband and children!)

Caitriona said...

ummmm. Just watched a movie and some of it was family members disputing over burial and creamation.
I have been back and forth on the issue but you made burial sound very appealing. To be abscent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.

Ruth said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Angie. I've always found the thought of cremation a bit troubling, wasn't sure how to articulate why...and your blog really lays out a good view.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit claustrophobic, so the thought of burial gives me anxiety attacks! I know that is silly, but I also know (or pray!) that God will take me home either way, so I'm all for having my ashes scattered to the heavenly wind. Your logic and biblical rationale, on the other hand, are impeccable!


Anonymous said...

Everyone in my family was burried in a casket, not as ashes in an urn. I was brought up as a Catholic in Austria. Creamation was not widely practiced. I visited the grave of my mother who died in 1939. I was a child then and I still remembered the funeral and the burial service and I know it was her body who was put into this grave. To me it is a comforting thought. I love your thoughts on this subject, Angie.

May all the souls who left this world before us Rest in Peace!