What is That in My Casket?

ImageLet’s break the rules of reality for a moment, and imagine that I can attend my own funeral. I’m present as mourner and mourned, dead and alive. Were I to stand alongside my casket, and speak to others of what lies in that box of mortality, how might I describe it?

Shall I gesture toward the 6’ 2”, brown-haired, blue-eyed cold and lifeless corpse and say, “My friends, that is body of Chad Bird inside the coffin”? Or, shall I get a bit wordy, and elaborate on what this thing is that’s filling up the casket, by saying, “That is the empty shell that Chad inhabited while in this life, but, being in a better place now, he needs that hollow husk no more”? What should I say?

If the roles were reversed, and you stood alongside your own coffin, tell me, what words would you choose?

Here’s why it’s important: the answer to “What lies in my casket?” also reveals the answer to “What kind of Christianity lies within my heart?” What we confess concerning a corpse confesses much about how deep, or how shallow, is our understanding of the importance of the incarnation of Jesus, his death, and his (as well as our own) resurrection.

There is nothing bad or unspiritual about your body. When the Lord wove you together within your mother’s womb, he didn’t take a pure, clean soul and encase it within an impure, inferior hunk of flesh. He created you a complete person of body and soul, no part superior or inferior to the other, no part more or less spiritual than the other. Similarly, when the Son of God came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary—when God became man—he became what we are: a full human being, body and soul. He assumed all that we are, in order that all that we are, he might redeem. God was not ashamed to assume our human nature. It was not somehow beneath him. Willingly and lovingly, he became one of us. And he remains one of us. God too has a human body.

Not only is there nothing bad or unspiritual about your body; there is also nothing temporary about it. Yes, because there is sin in the world, and sin produces death, your body will one day die an earthly death. Your body and soul will separate—your body will remain on earth, your soul go to be with Christ to await the resurrection. But while this separation of body and soul is temporary, your body is not. At his return, on the last day, Christ will reunite your soul to your body, raise and glorify your body, make your body like his own. In other words, you will be Eastered by Jesus. He will do for you and to you what he has already done himself on the day of his resurrection. The body conceived within the virgin, the body that grew into that of a man, the body that ate and drank and suffered and died—that flesh and blood body of Jesus was made alive on Easter day. And when Jesus, in that selfsame body returns to claim you as his own, he will make you to be as he is.

As true as it is that when believers die, they go to be with Jesus in heaven, sometimes I fear we talk too much about that and not nearly enough about the resurrection of the body. The end goal of the Christian faith is not merely to go to heaven, but for Jesus to resurrect our bodies so that, as a whole person, body and soul, perfected and glorified, we might spend eternity with him. That is our true and final hope: the full experience of Christ’s Easter victory in our own bodies.

So what is that in your casket? It is not an empty shell or a hollow husk. To speak that way is to insult the Creator, to disparage the incarnation of Jesus, and to ignore or even deny the coming reunion of body and soul in the resurrection. What is in that casket is the body that God the Father created; a body that God baptized into Jesus’ own body; a body that should be treated with respect; a body that will lay in wait for the last day; a body that will be reformed and glorified on the day it is rejoined to your soul.

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14 thoughts on “What is That in My Casket?

  1. A much-needed balance, as you rightly pointed out. In view of the popularity of cremation, even among Christians, more focus needs to be put upon the body buried and the resurrection. Those who choose cremation seem to do so out of a false humility, of not wanting a “to-d0” at a funeral. That may be a valid concern when one considers what happens at many funerals, but to burn the body is to disrespect what God has created and what God will raise again on the last day.

    • Joseph on said:

      Philip,

      You are right that cremation, “can” be used as a “sign” of disrespect to the Creator, in that the person wants to “tempt” God to putting he/she back together as if he/she does not believe to do so. However, cremation in and of itself is not wrong. Take into account scripture. Man was made from the earth and he will return to the earth…”ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” What cremation does is expedite the process of decay you can verify this with any Funeral director. Essentially, your body will turn to this state at some point after you die. Also, let’s not forget either how great God is, and that HE can by all means take our body, whether it is whole or a pile of ash and transform it, on the Last Day. Even though a body is cremated this does not imply that you cannot have a funeral, in fact I have seen many funerals conducted where the body was cremated. I agree with Chad that the body is indeed important (especially to God), and it is a body that will decay, and it is a body in the eyes of God whether it is completely ash or not.

      • auggie girl on said:

        Christians who dislike cremation are not suggesting that God *can’t* raise a body that’s been burned. That’s a strawman. They dislike it because is an especially violent and gruesome way to treat a corpse (some burial methods are, too). It does not really represent a mere “sped-up” version of what naturally happens. It involves intentionally burning a body and crushing the bones to pieces. Bodies in coffins do not turn into charred ash and crushed bone on their own. Even if it did, who are we to speed up the body’s temporary obliteration? It does seem to visually confess this Gnostic idea that the body’s not that important.

  2. Reblogged this on Pastorsamwise and commented:
    “I look for the Resurrection of the dead and the life + of the world to come. Amen.”

  3. Karen Janssen on said:

    Cremation is not always disrespect. Sometimes it is family tradition. (bury me with my spouse) Sometimes it is simple economics. Have you priced a casket recently? And embalming services?

  4. Good post! As to what I would say about what lies in the casket: “He is not dead – he is only sleeping” sums it up for me pretty well. 🙂

  5. Karen Awbrey on said:

    Thanks for this writing. Answered some questions for me and guess I now can not do the cremation thing (was the plan because of cost). When the body and soul meet again it the body as it was when it died (i.e. cancer ridden, handicapped)? I always thought we got a new body, I was sure counting on it.

  6. Tina S. on said:

    I had the pleasure of knowing a beautiful Christian woman who expressed the desire to be cremated. Upon asking her why, she never suggested that God couldn’t do it. In fact, quite the opposite. She wanted it done because she wanted to see *how* God would put the body back together. I am sure that now she is that side of the grave, she already knows, but for her, it was about watching God work and being in awe of what He can do. Cremation doesn’t have to be a statement of doubt of who God is and a denial of the “good” in His creation. I think it is important to listen to what is going on in the heart of a Christian to find out if cremation is a point of concern in their faith.

  7. To the concern that burial is expensive, might I suggest serious Christians might benefit from the ‘green funeral’ movement and eschew such stuff as embalming and airtight caskets. Indeed, a plain pine box, or even a simple linen or cotton shroud in a corrugated coffin, buried without a concrete vault ought to be far cheaper than the process of burning soft tissue and grinding up bones which is what typically happens in cremation.

    Tuck me in for the duration of my dormition, and I shall rise. Perhaps first (in a sense) as a source of mulch and loam for a tree or two— but ultimately and most profoundly truly— in the Resurrection of the Body.

  8. James –
    Some states require a vault for burial. I know this is the case in Minnesota.

    Karen –
    I have taken the time to compare the cost of cremation verses burial, and the difference is negligible.

  9. There are many ways to respect and care for the body and confess our Christian hope. Many salutary traditions, I might even say responsibilities, have been surrendered to morticians and funeral home directors. The family bathing and dressing the body, visitation in the home or church, family and Pastor standing watch at the grave until the casket has been buried and literally laid to rest, and surely many more I am ignorant of.

    When the prayer of our Christian brothers and sisters, deliver us from evil, is finally answered, we ought to use every means at our disposal to turn all eyes to the one who makes the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come a reality.

  10. Brian Stark on said:

    A reply to Joseph’s comment above: “Take into account scripture. Man was made from the earth and he will return to the earth… ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust.'”

    In Genesis 3:19 God says to Adam, “By the sweat of your face You shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it [the ground] you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” In other words, when we do in fact take the Scriptures into account we discover that the phrase “ashes to ashes” is nowhere to be found. It first appears in the Book of Common Prayer in the 1500’s, and even there was by no means suggesting cremation as an acceptable alternative to earth burial.

    Sadly, and in our ignorance, the intrusion of a phrase foreign to the Scriptures into our funeral rites has misled modern Christians to believe that the practice of cremation has valid Biblical support.

  11. I have been struggling with the issue of cremation vs. burial for some time now. There are valid arguments on both sides. However, I cannot forget Jesus’ words to the called disciple who asked to go bury his father before joining Jesus in ministry. Did not Jesus say ” let the dead bury the dead”? I also have looked at the price of cemetery plots, not to mention required vaults, markers, caskets and other mortuary services. Are we really being good stewards of our earthly blessings when we spend, even on a modest burial, upwards of six or seven thousand dollars in addition to whatever the cost of a plot is too? I sincerely believe that God is able and will raise up our bodies no matter what they have become or where they are located. To say that we are dishonoring God by destroying an already dead body is hard for me to fathom. It seems far more dishonorable to God to feed the funeral industry with funds that could be directed in memorials that will serve the living and point them to the message of salvation.

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