Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Some thoughts from the House of Mourning:

This is one of those blog posts that has more to do with me wrestling something to the ground than anything else, but if it provokes profitable thought and/or comment from others, so much the better.  Solomon says that we are wise to visit the house of mourning (Ecclesiates 7)  I had to visit recently, and decided to stay for a bit, look around, and ponder.
From my last post here on the TVTMK blog as well as several articles at STTA, you may have gathered that my mom recently died.
My brother, sisters, and I knew mom's death was near.  In fact, we hoped it would come quickly.  Unlike when my father died unexpectedly, we had some time to plan.  Money was a factor.  We wanted to properly honor my mother, but we all think it foolish to be extravagant.  My immediate family lives in Virginia, Texas, and Indiana.  The next generation takes in another four states and a nation in Europe.  So, things are complicated.  Mom lived in Indiana with my sister. Her last real home was here in Virginia where my dad is buried.  Early on we decided that mom would be buried here.  Having any service in Indiana was unlikely, and in the end we didn't have any there.  One of the early points of discussion had to do with cremation.  Since mom would die in Indiana and be buried five-hundred miles away in Virginia, there were obvious logistical advantages.  I don't have any strong Theological/Biblical opposition to cremation.  I have read some of the attempts to prove from the Bible that it is wrong and haven't been convinced, but I was opposed to it.  Primarily I was opposed to cremating mom's body, because I know other people find cremation highly offensive.  I wanted to honor my mom.  That is hard to do that while thumbing one's nose at the sensibilities of others.  Especially since I am called to minister to those folk, I voted against that possibility.
We chose to have no viewing of mom's body.  I last saw her several months ago.  I hope I don't offend anyone by saying this, but generally when I go to a viewing (a wake as it is called in other places) I only look in the casket, because some people expect me to.  I don't need to see in order to know that the person is gone.  Perhaps others do. Mom's body was brought here to Virginia.  She was buried in a private graveside service.  Later that day we honored here in a Memorial service.

In a Theologically rich passage about death, the Apostle Paul speaks of the body as an "earthly tent," and says it will be "torn down." He says it will be replaced with a "dwelling from heaven."  After some further discussion, the Apostle, well versed in bodily suffering, pronounces his druthers--"to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord."  (2 Corinthians 5:1-8)
Yet in other places it is clear that the body is not merely a container of the person, but an integral part.  Jesus spoke of His friend Lazarus, as being sick, asleep, and dead.  In each case it was Lazarus that was in the condition Jesus described.  Jesus told His disciples, ". . . let us go to him."  (my emphasis) Jesus assured the grieving sister, Martha, "Your brother will rise again."  When Jesus called Lazarus from the grave He called him by name, "Lazarus, come forth."  (John 11)

Several months ago I visited my uncle's grave in Normandy, France.  Nearly ten, thousand servicemen are
buried there.  On a wall more than a thousand more names are inscribed.  These are the fallen whose bodies were not recovered.  If Sergeant  Hugh Allen Merrell is in the grave, where are those hundreds whose bodies were destroyed or lost in their battle against Nazi tyranny?

Obviously, there is a tension, here, and as with most theological tensions there is a tendency to gravitate toward one pole or the other, or, to change the metaphor, to swing the pendulum to one of the extremes.

I reacted against one extreme years ago when a close friend died.  His eldest son wanted to get rid of the body in as cheap a fashion as possible.  Immediate cremation, and unceremonious disposal was his plan.  My friend was loved, not only by me, but by many others, including his church.  I thought, and, more so, I felt that this proposal was wrong--even vulgar.  Not knowing where I would get the resources I said, "I don't want my friend to be remembered this way.  If need be, I will take care of the expenses."  (There was more involved, and as is often the case, the difference financially between cremation and burial was not as great as was originally thought.)  My friend was properly, but modestly honored.  Later when I watched this scene from West Wing, I was reminded of what I had done for my friend.  It was right.  The extreme that says the body is nothing is wrong.

Yet I hear others speak as if the body is everything.  Some of the more intellectual among them are fond of using the word gnostic*.  I think, in using the word they are railing against the extreme bifurcation of body and spirit that marked the Second Century cult, and is the excuse for the shabby treatment of the body that I and the fictional Toby objected to.  Yet in their objections, it seems that some go to far.  Look here for an extended--very extended--discussion.  They seem to make more of the body than it is, and pronounce absolutes were none exist.

I'm humbled by the realization that I don't all that I wish I did about death.  It is an enemy.  For those of us in Christ.  It is a defeated enemy.

*I find it interesting that in railing against gnosticism some folk embrace a characteristic of the cult.  The idea of, and dare I say "the pride in," possessing knowledge that others do not have.  Why else bandy about a code word that clearly separates the initiate from the ignorant masses.

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