Deep Sleep

Burial or Cremation?

The time has come to leave the body for the after life. Someone, a relative, spouse or even yourself must prepare to care for the body after departure. Most consider a traditional burial while some choose cremation. It is important to understand the spiritual connections and implications of cremation verses burial when making this important decision.

“Cremation is the way to go! This process is economical, environmentally friendly and poses less financial burden on the family.” On average, cremation typically runs about $1000.00 less than a traditional burial. I liken cremation to buying a new car. The base price is perfect and affordable…until the extra accouterments are added. In addition, some think the environmental or green footprint is far less with cremation verses burial.

God must have failed to realize the above when He directed how a body should be disposed of in scripture. God obviously was not progressive or futuristic in His thinking. Didn’t he know man would advance, the earth would shrink, and toxic waste would annihilate us all? In  Genesis (3:19), God declares of man: “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” Deuteronomy (21:23) commands in the case of an executed criminal, “You shall surely bury him.”

According to Jewish literature, the requirements for burying the dead are explicitly stated in multiple later rabbinic sources such as  Sanhedrin 46bMaimonides’ Sefer Hamitzvot, and the Shulhan Arukh. As a matter of fact, Jewish practice and practicality is to quickly bury the body in a simple pine casket.

But, “I am not Jewish, so how does this apply to me?” What about Christians and cremation? Is it a sin for a Christian to be cremated? Yes and no. In ancient times, cremation was a pagan practice, void of the dictates of God and His covenant people. Jews and Christians share a great deal of similar theological convictions given the parental role of Judaism in Christianity. Biblical narratives demonstrate burial for the people of God. There is a natural transition out of the body in the burial process.

We know from theological studies that the soul (nefesh) which is composed of all the conscience faculties or core of a human being can “hover” around the body for three days. This allows a confirmed deceased person time to literally say goodbye to him or herself gradually. We see this recorded in John 11:1-44, as it pertained to Lazarus’ resurrection. In verse 21-22, Martha pointed out that if Jesus had been there within three days when resurrection was possible, he could have resurrected Lazarus. Jesus understood the laws of death and physical separation from the body and its scientific timeline when he quelled the criticism of appearing late to help his friend or friends. Jesus himself had his body prepared to be buried in a sepulcher. The New Testament account records that “He then rose on the third day.” Nothing in scripture is accidental or by chance. God provides specifics in everything pertaining to life, on earth and beyond.

Cremation, on the other hand, comes with “spiritual risk.” The quick process of fire and destruction of the body does not allow for the necessary time that a person requires to fully depart from the physical body. The Holocaust cremation of six million Jews was not only a pagan practice in ancient time, it served as a spiritually defiling and painful occurrence for every Jew on more than one level. Many Jews declared dead, were not completely ‘so dead’ before the journey to the crematoriums. Likewise, when medical practitioners declare the last breath and death of a person as final, the individual may not have yet vacated the body.

Cremation does not allow for a person’s proper transition. Countless testimonies of those traveling from the body and returning have recorded awareness and physical sensation before the silver cord is severed or the golden bowl is broken. In essence, cremation is a much more painful way to leave the body. The human, complete with a soul, is set apart from the animal kingdom. Whether the person was good or evil in this world, the body is heaven’s property. The destination of the soul requires another teaching.

In a society where self reigns, where fast, cheap solutions are presented, there is a temptation to justify cremation. More and more Jews and Christians are opting for cremation because of economics, portability, and real estate modesty.

The mental and spiritual strength that comes with paying the price to bury a loved one is lost in our “evolving” society. The Egyptians prepared a lifetime for the departure of the body according to Egyptologists. That was a priority. Today, death and burial are almost a “taboo” subject in life planning among the living. Yet, the majority of time, death ironically occurs unplanned and unprepared for.

Burial, on the other hand, can be as economical or as expensive as one makes it. The added cost of embalming as a form of body preservation for public presentation is an added expense. According to Jewish halakhah (law or the way), it is a form of bodily mutilation. This is based on the fact the human body is the property of God, and not man. Man is forbid to defile the body. Then there is the chariot, or nice ride for the loved one. The choices range from pine box, silk or satin lined, burl wood, and Rolls Royce edition casket appointments. In our moments of grieving, unscrupulous undertakers can sky rocket the burial costs. Prior proper planning and prioritization can go a long way in alleviating the shock and financial strain associated with the traditional burial process.

Cremation or burial is certainly a personal and family choice. After careful discussion and conviction in the family decision process, don’t look back. However, the focus lies with the complexities and dimensions of the whole human. Our knowledge is limited, yet we know God’s sentiments on the matter. The spirit (ruach or breath and the nefesh {soul, the actual personality}) and the way a covenant child of God departs is of vital importance to God.  The body was prepared by God in the womb (Jeramiah 1:5). It must be returned back to God in good condition as instructed by Him. It is interesting to note that God’s resurrection power was electrifying and active after the prophet Elisha was laid to rest. Scripture states that a dead body thrown into the grave that touched Elisha’s bones was immediately brought back to life (2 Kings 13:21).

There have been some strange requests by the living. Take for instance such ideas as, “spread my ashes over the Rockies”, or “bury my ashes in Israel in the Jordon”, or “sprinkle them down the Nile”. All of these requests are realistic and economical, of course. Never mind the cost of a helicopter, airfare, hotel, and shall we say International government approval. Maybe burial is simply not that expensive after all.

As I lay this article to rest, may it provoke serious consideration as we consider our choices concerning our departures. We know that death is no respecter of age, gender, or religion. It comes to all.

As the Star Trek Vulcan Spock declared with the sign of the shin, “Live long and prosper.” The Hebrew letter shin is the first letter in Shaddai (one of many names for God), and the first letter in the Hebrew word Shalom. In Hebrew, Shalom is peace, hello….and goodbye. May we all have shalom and happy departures in our journeys from earth. That is of course, after we live long and prosper!