Thinking Out Loud

April 25, 2011

Cremation and Christianity

I would love to tell you that I spent Saturday afternoon in a tour boat, cruising up and down the St. Lawrence, the river that begins around Kingston, Ontario and carries the water from the Great Lakes out to sea; but if I told you that, I would not be telling you the full story.

Instead, we were on the river with about 30 family members to perform the solemn act of casting the ashes of my wife’s step-father to the waters, a request in keeping with his love of all things nautical.  This was the first time either my wife or I had been to a funeral where there was no casket — he actually died a month ago — and I arrived on the boat’s stern a couple of seconds too late to see the committal actually take place, but certainly on time to share the silence and contemplation that followed, along with a few tears.

At this  point, I would normally do my usual thing and kick off a discussion about cremation, but I find myself somewhat lacking an agenda here.  I checked out a few blogs on this topic, which I thought was relevant given that we have spent the last 48 hours thinking about resurrection, which is relevant because Christ’s resurrection foreshadows and in fact paves the way for our future resurrection.

One website concisely sums up the “guilty by association” type of logic with which most Evangelicals approach this topic:

I think one reason why cremation has had some negative baggage among Christians is that years ago atheists and other scoffers would choose cremation as a final insult to the “God” they didn’t believe in. “Take that! Let’s see you reassemble that!” Cremation is also widely practiced among Hindus, and it seemed to have a non-Christian basis.

This response, from an unnamed pastor, dealt directly with the story at hand:

Those who have been buried at sea have perhaps eventually become food for marine animals and their DNA spread all over creation.   Neither burial nor cremation really preserves the body in any permanent way.

So a respectful ceremony acknowledging the meaning of death and the hope of resurrection can be done for a burial and for a cremation and God will be honored.  I am personally planning on being cremated as a way of saving expense for my family and with a full acknowledgment that it will take just as much of a miracle to resurrect my body as it will for the person buried at sea.  God is able to accomplish this.

Fr. Dwight Longnecker, in a sermon transcript that tries to be all things to all people, does make an interesting and timely point at the end of his “covering all the bases” message:

…Our bodies fall into the ground and die to bring forth the resurrection body. And as the flower grows from the seed, but looks nothing like it, so it may be with our resurrection bodies. They are derived from these mortal bodies, but thrive and are alive with a new kind of life that has grown out of the old.

If the resurrection of Jesus Christ is anything to go by, then this seems to be precisely what does happen. He rose from the dead, but they didn’t recognize him at first.

I’m really not doing this topic justice however — perhaps many of you see this as rather peripheral issue — and that’s why I’m hoping all of you will pick up this theme in the comments.  Perhaps this site best explains why we don’t see more discussion on this. 

One day our bodies — whether buried or cremated — will be resurrected and restored. This hope is not increased or decreased by the form of the funeral and thus the question of cremation or burial is not of ultimate consequence.

Is it your desire to be buried or cremated?  Why? Does cremation run into conflict with Christian doctrines?  Are there any Jewish readers stopping by who want to explain their unique teaching on this?

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2 Comments »

  1. good topic, paul (in fact, i have a few thoughts along these lines saved as a draft).

    i plan to be cremated. the primary reason is to save my family some money. to be completely honest, though, my cremation will serve as sort of a tacit protest against the way we (believers) do death. if my family want to have a memorial service (and i secretly hope they do), i would hope it would be a celebration. no “saying good-bye” because there will be no body. and i sincerely believe we will all have communicated what needs to be/should have been while i was alive.

    sorry…no scriptural foundation except that i don’t believe we should “grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (1 thessalonians 4:13)

    Comment by randy morgan — April 25, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

  2. I have nothing for or against cremation, and no Biblical basis either way. One argument for cremation is the matter of space but I don’t see that as a problem here.

    I will be buried (unless the Lord returns beforehand)in the lawn cemetery so no maintenance is required. I wouldn’t want people visiting my grave after I’m gone. I won’t be there. Neither will I know of their visit.

    I have good Christian friends who regularly visit their loved-ones’ graves with flowers. I don’t think I’m cold-hearted but I see no point in it.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — April 27, 2011 @ 3:50 am


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