Last Saturday after adding a touch of half and half cream into my black coffee at a local coffee shop in Duluth, Georgia, I grabbed a copy of The Wall Street Journal on my immediate right, just to scan at the most recent companies that had gone public with stock offerings.
As I paged through the first section of the paper, I came across a thought-provoking essay written by Annabelle Gurwitch entitled, “Cremation Nation”: Our New Way to Go, March 29, 2019. As I read this article I knew that this subject matter deserved thoughtful if not Historical, Relational, and Biblical consideration. It was these issues that motivated me to research and share my findings in this blog post.
Historical and Relational Consideration
From the mid-1800’s up to about the 1900’s in the United States and United Kingdom, the funeral began to be regarded as an expression of wealth and social standing, and for those who could not afford a funeral there was considerable shame.
In the latter half of the 19th century, after the urbanization and the industrial revolution, death began to be shaped by three interconnected trends. The first was the growing use of technical/medical rational discourse; the second was the growth of specialist and technical practitioners including pathologists, cemetery managers and registrars, and the third being growth in secular and individualized beliefs. Thus the funeral began to be seen as a reflection of the deceased’s standing in the social order rather than the fate of their soul.
In the early decades of the 20th century begin to have a profound impact on mourning behavior and the conduct of funerals in the U.S. Factors such as child and youth mortality, two world wars in the first half of the century meant that the generations living and born at that time already had and further developed-a cultural norm of facing death.
Death moved from the home to the hospital and the influence of the funeral director post-death increased. Death somehow was increasingly concealed from public view and was managed behind a closed door. For many families, beyond the funeral, this remains the case today as “the main mourners” are no longer co-resident, and may spend much of each day in the presence of people who never knew the deceased.
Grief now has become a private experience!
The funerary ritual, as well as the expressions of loss after death, is shaped by social, political, cultural, and economic contexts. This is a reality in that issues concerning national conflict, commercial developments, shifting belief systems, and or about the right way to experience and manage death, seemingly have overlooked the family as the key reference in matters of death and dying.
Family in our current cultural construct is not limited to just the nuclear family system. In regards to death and dying situations, decisions, researchers content that family responsibilities need to be appreciated as “open-ended processes,” not according to pre-existing rules, but rather through explicit and implicit negotiation between individuals within given social and economic contexts.
[the above content in Historial/Relational
To Bury or to Burn?
It has been at least fifty years ago, many Americans would have considered cremation as unscriptural and very offensive. For much of history, cremation has been avoided and discouraged by nearly everyone in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
According to researchers and the increasingly popular options for contemporary believers and non-believers alike, cremation has become the way to go. According to Ms. Gurwitch, worldwide, the U.S. is far behind Japan [with a 99.9% cremation rate, according to a 2012 report by the Cremation Society of Great Britian], Switzerland 84.6%] and Thailand 80% by 2035.
In my own personal interest on this latest cultural trend, I discovered that according to a new report by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), cremations accounted for 50.2 percent of funerals in 2016, up from 48.5 percent in 2015. Last year, 43.5 percent of Americans opted for a burial, down from 45.4 percent in 2015.
Just on yesterday, [04.03.2019] in a one day poll on two internet social media sites, I posted an opportunity for people to chime in on the question of whether they would consider option one, a traditional burial or option two, cremation as their choice of transition choice. To my surprise, people responded in a rapid way, along with their choice and their various rationales for making their choice.
For people who choose to only cast a vote,
Why this major shift in cremations over the traditional burial of our loved ones?
Drawing from my own poll results, there was a common theme from many who favor cremation over burial. The cost of burials, fear of running out of space, concern about family maintaining a grave site, many desired for their ashes to spread at some special destination, some contended that the body was just a shell, that it is the soul that returns to the Father.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing trends in cremation is people choosing that their remains, be used to grow a tree or a plant! Companies like the Living Urn® make this selection, a lasting reality. https://www.thelivingurn.com/
Much of these above findings, confirmed the findings in the essay of Cremation Nation by Gurwitch, she lists the following reasons for this trend.
First, some Americans worry about the environmental impact of the chemicals used to prepare bodies for burial. Others are concerned about land use: If every American exercised the traditional Western burial option, the U.S. would need an additional 130 square miles of burial ground by midcentury. Developers aren’t eager to allot land for cemeteries, particularly close to our dense and valuable urban hubs, where roughly 80% of the country’s population has migrated. Lastly, for many, ceremonial visits to gravesites have become an antiquated affectation.
Biblical there are three passing references to cremation that are worth noting. [1 Samuel 31:11-12; Amos 2:1-3; and Amos 6:8-11] These references are largely incidental and fail to give the follower of the Messiah any clear moral guidance in this somewhat “grey” area.
For the 22% of people who choose the traditional burial, their reasons were reflective of the following:
In the many research articles, essays and Biblical sources on this matter, historically and traditionally the Judeo-Christian custom understood the biblical mandate to properly extend stewardship of material possessions to teach that burial is the best way to handle (or steward) the body of a decedent-regardless of a cost-benefit analysis.
As the apostle, John wrote, “The custom of the Jews is to bury.” [This very reference that was made by John when they took The Master’s body off of the cross and made ready for burial. John 19:40-43.]
By way of Jesus example, some of the Bible’s most significant individuals were buried and not cremated: Rachel, Joseph, Aaron, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, John the Baptist, Lazarus, Stephen.
Not only is burial a Biblical custom, burial of a body depicts a means of showing dignity to the human body and the future bodily resurrection. The following scriptures reflect this concern [Gen.1:31, Gen.1:26-27, Heb.2:14, Rom.8:23, 1 Corinthians 15:35-49, Philippians 3:20-21, Matt.9:24.]
In light of these passages, it is understood that the body is more than just a temporary shell inhabited during our short time on earth. The body has both material and immaterial components [body, soul, and spirit]. Though at death the human body no longer houses a soul/spirit, the body nonetheless will be renewed and reunited with the soul/spirit at the end of the age. [1 John 3:2, Rom.8:23]
In short, burial of the body of a believer is, in the truest sense, the last great act of faith that a believer may exhibit with his or her life. Whatever one may say about burial verse cremation, this much we can be certain of, burial is a distinctively Judeo- Christian practice.
Many churches have had their own graveyards throughout the New Covenant era. The purpose of these graveyards served was that of a memorial. It was a tangible expression that the saints buried there had spent their lives in the service of Christ–and now awaited the resurrection.
The bones of these believers were planted in the ground, as it were, to await the resurrection from the dead. While the Scriptures do not say that cremation is sinful in and of itself, there is ample reason for us to love and act upon the example of Scripture as an act of faith.
[The content in the Biblical consideration is the result of two major articles: Death and Bereavement in Judaism: Ancient Burial Practices. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ancient-burial-practices, and To Bury or to Burn? Cremation in Christian Perspective, by David Jones]
In closing, it is my prayer that this blog post serves as a meaningful tool and a blessing in assisting and or encouraging you to make the very best choice in your family needs or your very own.
Thanks for all of my family, friends, colleagues, and associates who participated in the one-day poll. Your comments and thoughts are well appreciated.
“Think not of death as the extinguishing of life, but rather the snuffing out of a candle because dawn has come.”
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Grace and Peace