After Life

Death is something that most people avoid thinking about.  That probably goes equally so for making arrangements regarding the disposition of one’s body after death.  

Working with older people, it’s quite common for them to tell me about the plans they’ve made.  Cremation, burial plots – fairly traditional options.  Sometimes the issue is driven by economics.  Other times by the comfort that comes from having one’s body laid near loved ones.  Sometimes the issue is the ‘feel’ of a place, the peacefulness, the view.  There are myriad reasons and ways that people settle on how they wish to be handled after their death.
I don’t often hear people talk about their faith as a key factor.  That’s something that is relegated to the memorial service.  Or the graveside component.  But what to do with their earthly remains?  What does religion have to do with that?
Perhaps a great deal.  And in a time when decisions about the disposal of our dead bodies is being driven by more novel concerns, other options are emerging for how best to handle one’s remains.  Natural burial is gaining popularity (http://naturalburial.coop/about-natural-burial/).  A newer technology that also promises to be ecologically more sensitive is promession (http://www.walrusmagazine.com/articles/2009.07-green-funerals-decomposting-bodies-hames-glave/) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Promession), (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ic8ruziJ48&eurl=http://www.google.com/reader/view/%3Ftab%3Dmy&feature=player_embedded).
Is there a proper way to handle one’s body after death?  Does our choice reflect our theology?  Should it?  I’d argue that yes, it can reflect it and should.
The video about promession is rather interesting in that it talks about “resurrection”.  Now, in Christianity, resurrection is a fairly loaded term, and I tend to think the video creator’s are tapping into that.  However, their version of “resurrection” is a resurrection into nature.  The dead person does not come back to life as themselves, but rather as the organic compounds and nutrients for a tree or a bush.  
What does it matter what happens to the body after we die?  After all, for quite a long time, bodies have simply been decomposing back into the earth.  Genesis 3:19 seems instructive here – “…for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (ESV).  So whether we get there with a primitive (or natural) burial, via cremation, via a slower decomposition with modern burial preparations, or via some new technology like promession, what’s the difference?  Dust is dust, isn’t it?  Does how we get there matter?
Yes, it matters.  And no, it doesn’t.
The Bible teaches that as part of the effects of sin, we’re going to die.  Our spiritual and our physical entities – which have been bound together since conception – are going to be torn apart.  It’s unnatural.  It isn’t how it’s supposed to be.  The Gnostic/Greek treatment of the physical – including the body – as bad, and the spiritual as the only thing that matters or is good is not Biblical in the least.  We are physical and spiritual beings – together and simultaneously, not sequentially.  Therefore, when I die, I hope to witness to that faith and hope.  The hope that I will be resurrected physically.  That the body is not inconsequential, even though it will likely decompose and decay.  The decomposition of the body is not a theologically charged issue – it’s a simple fact.  But how we foster that decomposition can have theological ramifications.  
I don’t mind if after I die, I decompose back to the earth and my remains are incorporated into the grass and bushes and trees around me.  I’m part of creation.  A unique and distinct part, but a part all the same.  That’s natural.  But to make this the point of my burial, well, that’s another theological issue all together.  It’s good to be ecologically sensitive – but to make this the point of our burial?  Again, we seem to be missing a theological boat here.  
So yes, what – or perhaps more accurate – how or why – we choose our final resting place and state does matter.  
And yet, at the same time, it doesn’t.  I wouldn’t tell someone that they were committing a final sin by choosing promession, or cremation, or traditional burial, or burial at sea.  But what I’d tell that person is, if they’re a Christian, to think about what this means to them.  What does the promise that we will rise from our graves mean?  God has and undoubtedly still does grow trees from the remains of countless people through the eons.  But for me to choose that as my final statement about who I am and whose I am?  Well, it might be worth a second thought.  Maybe even a third.  But in the end, it’s not enough of an issue to get into a fight about.
Or is it?

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