Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"It is better to bury than to burn"

Russell Moore argues that the historic Christian preference for burial rather than cremation far better represents our convictions. He made that case in Touchstone some time ago [the title of this post was his original title for that article]. Now, in Christianity Today, in "The Empty Tomb and the Emptied Urn," he explains what he doesn't mean by his opposition to cremation:
While speaking of the Christian belief in the resurrection of the flesh, I called my hearers to reconsider what their funeral plans testified about their hope for the future. I reiterated a position — long-held in the history of the church — that burial, not cremation, best pictures the imagery of death as a sleep from which one is awakened at the last trumpet. You would have thought I had tried to lead the service through an invitation hymn to the Blessed Virgin (with every head bowed and every eye closed).

As I talked to my congregants, though, I realized what was controversial was not my position. .... What alarmed my people was the thought of people they knew, now sitting in urns on their mantles or scattered across the Pacific Ocean or fertilizing a grove of banana trees in someone's backyard.

Was I suggesting, they wondered, that their friends and family members couldn't be resurrected from the dead — or that they would be resurrected permanently disfigured by the fires of the cremation oven?

Of course that's not at all what I was suggesting. After all, most people who hear the voice of Jesus on resurrection morning will have long before disintegrated into dust, through the natural process of decay. And anyway, it doesn't take any more Spirit dynamic to recompose ashes than to reactivate dead tissue.

There are many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, I noted to my disturbed flock, who have been torn apart by lions in the Roman arenas or devoured by sharks after being cast overboard slave ships or evaporated in wartime bombings. They'll be with us in the resurrection. ....

I still oppose cremation. There's a reason Christians throughout the centuries have committed the bodies of the faithful to the ground, dramatically picturing our trust in the reclamation of these very same bodies when the roll is called up yonder. But I'm careful now to explain that, whatever is the case, cremation isn't forever. Neither is amputation or mastectomies or the horrifying tattoo marks of totalitarian regimes sending prisoners to their executions. ....

But, more importantly, we ought to remind ourselves of our hope, the day when we'll be gathered on the other side of this age of cemeteries. His blessings will be known, far as the curse is found — and that includes the marks of death we bore in our bodies. We'll be home, and we'll be whole. [more]
The Empty Tomb and the Emptied Urn | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction


  1. I have to admit, I don't get it. If "most people who hear the voice of Jesus on resurrection morning will have long before disintegrated into dust, through the natural process of decay. And anyway, it doesn't take any more Spirit dynamic to recompose ashes than to reactivate dead tissue." then why is it showing any less hope in the our future if we use cremation rather than burial?

    For me it's very much a financial decision. I like the concept of the country song "Put me in a Hefty bag and and leave me by the curb." I will no longer be in that body. It is a shell that I will have shed, looking forward to receiving a new body in the new heaven and new earth.

    As C.S. Lewis said, "You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body."

  2. It's about the symbolism. Symbolism is important - think of baptism. We do it by immersion, even though conversion would be just as real without the symbol.

    I posted something by Moore on this subject once before. Here is a portion I didn't quote then:

    "Of course God can resurrect a cremated Christian. He can also resurrect a Christian burned at the stake, or a Christian torn to pieces by lions in a Roman coliseum, or a Christian digested by a great white shark off the coast of Florida.

    "But are funerals simply the way in which we dispose of remains? If so, graveyards are unnecessary, too. Why not simply toss the corpses of our loved ones into the local waste landfill?

    "For Christians, burial is not the disposal of a thing. It is caring for a person. In burial, we’re reminded that the body is not a shell, a husk tossed aside by the “real” person, the soul within. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6–8; Phil. 1:23), but the body that remains still belongs to someone, someone we love, someone who will reclaim it one day.

    "Our father Abraham did not “dispose” of the “container” previously occupied by his loved one. Moses tells us that “Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan” (Gen. 23:19, emphasis mine). His burial of his wife, returning her to the dust from which she came, honored our foremother, in precise distinction from the shamefulness with which our God views the leaving of bodies to decompose publicly (Is. 5:25).

    "The Gospel of John tells us that 'Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days' (John 11:17). The Holy Spirit chose to identify this body as Lazarus, communicating continuity with the very same person Jesus had loved before and would love again.

    "After the crucifixion of Jesus, the Gospels present us with an example of devotion to Jesus in the way the women—and Joseph of Arimathea—minister to him, anointing him with spices, specifically anointing, Mark tells us, him and not just “his remains” (Mark 16:1), and wrapping him in a shroud. Why is Mary Magdalene so grieved when she finds the tomb to be empty? It is not that she doubts that a stolen body can be resurrected by God on the last day. It is instead that she sees violence done to the body of Jesus as violence done to him, dishonor done to his body as dishonor to him."


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