Kendall Harmon: Cremation: Have we Thought it Through?

For Christians, being the resurrection people we are, this should be a no-brainer. But it’s not. The Church in the West has generally dropped the ball on this issue, mainly because many in the mainline don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ or the promise of new creation with all its physicality, resurrected bodies included. And so many faithful Christians are left to fend for themselves when it comes to these kinds of decisions. Canon Harmon does a succinct and thorough job parsing it all out. See what you think.

At a MINIMUM my plea, to follow Paul in Romans, is for each person to make up his or her own mind. In other words, think it through. What I regularly find with contemporary Christians is that they have no problem with cremation, but when I raise objections they cannot answer them. So please understand that I am writing this to encourage you think against me in the body of Christ. Cremation is a matter on which Christians differ with one another, but that difference is to be an encouragement to us to think more deeply about the subject. (I just wrote “we will gladly do the burial either way” and then I looked at it a long time and realized that “gladly” might be misconstrued! We will surely do your burial no matter what you decide).

Often the cremation question is formulated backwards. The question should be why should Christians do anything other than bodily burial? I wish to press this question by noting that it can be shown that as secularization increases, cremation increases. This ought at least to give us pause.

Bodily Burial should be preferred for at least three reasons. (1) Bodily burial best allows for honest grief. This is the least important reason, but it matters a lot in our culture which for the most part STILL lives into Ernest Becker’s book title THE DENIAL OF DEATH. In such a culture, it is all the more important to enable people honestly to face up to the reality of death. The whole practice of the “death industry” is in the other direction.

Think about it. A coffin looks like a person–the same size, etc. When it is lifted it FEELS like a person, and the weightiness suggests the weight of the gift of life God gave. When it is lowered into the ground it feels like we are burying a person-same weight, height, etc. Cremation takes us away from these things–an urn is not the same size or weight as a person, etc. Also, the whole symbolism of the pall (the white linen cloth placed over the coffin) as the resurrection body is altogether lost without a coffin.

(2) The whole symbolism of cremation is exactly backwards. Christians believe in bodily resurrection. They should therefore respect the body in every possible way–how does cremation achieve this? The images for hell are: destruction, punishment, and exclusion. Fire is a key element of the scriptural teaching (there is no evidence, by the way, for Gehenna as a garbage dump, as is continually alleged in the literature). If you say a prayer over a body in an English Crematorium as my doctoral supervisor Geoffrey Rowell did, you actually look into the fire as the body is disposed of. LOOKING INTO THE FIRE? What kind of symbol for resurrection is that?
In contrast, in bodily burial, we look to the Lord, we look to the future, and we confess our faith in God who will make a new heaven and a new earth.

(3) The whole structure of Christian theology ought to challenge us here as well. Creation-fall-redemption-glorification is a profoundly earth-affirming and bodily faith structure. We were made of the earth and given bodies in creation, Christ took on full-bodiedness in the incarnation and was fully bodily resurrected, and we await one day our new and glorified bodies. Certainly our belief in the resurrection of the body is a factor here, but there is more: the whole sacramental approach to life and faith is in view. Bodily Burial is an affirmation of our bodily creation, an affirmation of our bodily redemption, and a proper anticipation of our bodily glorification.

Read it all

Pope Francis Muses on the Meaning of the Ascension

From here.

“In the Creed,” noted the pontiff, “we confess our faith in Christ who ‘ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father’. … What does this mean for our lives? While he ‘ascends’ to [Jerusalem], where his ‘exodus’ from this life will take place, Jesus already sees the goal, Heaven, but he knows well that the path that will take him back to the Father’s glory passes through the Cross, through obedience to the divine plan of love for humanity. … We also must be clear, in our Christian lives, that entering into God’s glory demands daily fidelity to his will, even when it requires sacrifice, when it sometimes requires us to change our plans.”

The Pope explained the Ascension in light of St Luke’s Gospel, which gives a short version of it. “Jesus led his disciples ‘as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven’. .. This is the first important point: Jesus is the only and eternal Priest who, by his passion, has traversed death and the grave and is risen and ascended into Heaven. He is with God the Father, where he always intercedes in our favour. As St. John affirms in his First Letter: He is our Advocate.”

He then added: “How wonderful it is to hear this! When someone is called in front of a judge or goes to court, the first he does is look for a lawyer to defend him. We’ve got one who always defends us, who defends us from the devil’s snares, defends us from ourselves, from our sins! Dear brothers and sisters, we have this Advocate. Let us not be afraid to go to him and ask forgiveness, to ask for blessing, to ask for mercy. He always forgives us. He is our Advocate. He defends us always. Never forget this!”

An excellent piece. Please do take the time and read it all. There’s lots to chew on and give you hope.

Pope Leo the Great on the Ascension of Jesus 2017

With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on which our poor human nature was carried up, in Christ, above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father. And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high. This faith was increased by the Lord’s ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit.

Fr. Carlo Carretto on Knowing God

Marital love is an image, however pale, of the reality which develops little by little between the Absolute and the creature, between God and humankind, between Yahweh and Israel.

In marital love it is not enough to study the beloved, write poems, or receive cards from far away. Couples must marry, say “yes” to one another, go behind the veil of intimacy, delight in one another—exultantly, become close, cultivate friendship, stay together as much as possible, coalesce their wills, make two things one, as scripture says.

But pretending to know the other just by studying him in books or photographs means remaining outside real knowledge, real mystery.

Today, many persons who seek or study God do just that. They study him in books, make him an object of speculation, approach him from intellectual curiosity.

With what result? The more we study, the more our ideas become confused; the more we get caught up in discussions, the farther we go from him.

I think this is the nature of the crisis in the Church today; it is a crisis of prayer, it is a crisis of contemplation. Study is no longer the light of spirituality, and curiosity has taken the place of humility.

Self-assurance and derision of the past are the false light which guides man’s pride in the labyrinth of God’s “unknowing,” pretending to seize the truth with the strength of intelligence only.

But God’s truth is the same, truth is the secret of things “up there,” and no one can know it wIthout revelation from God.

Has Christ not already said so?

In the upper room, replying to the worried question put to him by Judas (not Judas Iscariot) about why he was not manifesting himself to the world, but only to his intimate friends, he replied with extreme clarity: “Anyone who loves me will be true to my word, and my Father will love him; we will come to him and make our dwelling place with him” (John 14:23).

Only love brings God’s coming to us, his living presence within us, and his consequent revelation.

He who obeys the commandments he has from me is the man who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father. I too will love him and reveal myself to him. (John 14:21)

—From The God Who Comes, by Carlo Carretto

Living a Balanced Christian Life

Though it might be argued, theoretically, that a Christianity in which [people] know how to picket, but not how to pray, is bound to wither, theorizing is not required, because we can already observe the logic of events. The fact is that emphasis upon the life of outer service, without a corresponding emphasis upon the life of devotion, has already led to obviously damaging results, one of which is calculated arrogance. How different it might be if the angry activists were to heed the words found in The Imitation of Christ, “Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.”

The essence of pietism, by contrast, is the limitation of primary interest to personal salvation. Even today, by the highways, we can see signs paid for by somebody, which urge us to “get right with God.” The evil of this well-intentioned effort lies not in what it says, but in what it so evidently omits. The assumption is that salvation is nothing more than a private transaction between the individual and God and that it can be an accomplished, dated event.

—Elton Trueblood, The New Man for Our Time

Happy Birthday, Dad

JFM at BooteryToday would have been my dad’s 94th birthday, something I really can’t wrap my mind around. He’s been dead for almost 13 years and I still miss him. Oh, don’t misunderstand. I know where he is and I am not unhappy for him because he is enjoying his well-deserved rest with the Lord as he awaits his new resurrection body. So no regrets there.

No, I just miss him. I miss being around him and enjoying his company. I miss his gentle humor and his great wisdom. I miss his big heart and him being the patriarch of our family.

God blessed me richly in giving me a father who loved me and served as a great role model for me and the community in which he lived. For that I am thankful and I try to conduct myself in ways that would make dad proud. Not real good in doing that lately, though.

Happy birthday, dad. I love you. Thank you for giving me the greatest gift a son could ever want—you.

Fr. Carretto Muses on the Church

How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you! How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you! I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand sanctity. I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms. No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, although not completely.

—Carlo Carretto, The God Who Comes