This column appears in the March 21st edition of the Daily Journal.
The best story that didn’t make it into the feature was one Natrdick Jones told me. A couple of years ago a local pastor came to him with an unusual request.
He wanted to have a funeral for Jesus.
Jones and his staff obliged. They loaded a casket into the hearse, then drove it out to the church, unloaded it and wheeled it up, front and center, into the sanctuary. The preacher, Jones said, had a field day talking about the importance of honoring the body and about how the empty casket was like the empty tomb.
It sounded like a lot of fun and it was certainly a different take on the whole business of Easter.
I thought about Jones’ offbeat story, and about something Billy Curl at Lee Memorial told me about funerals, that they’re not really for the dead but for the living.
I think what Curl was driving at, and what the innovative pastor in Jones’ story was trying to say, is the same thing. We don’t really belong to
ourselves. We belong to God, and to others.
I used to have this theology professor, a big, bombastic guy who flew around the room speaking in hyperbole and getting everybody stirred up. He used to say, “Jesus kicked open the doors of hell and said, ‘Hey folks, let’s go!’”
He meant that everything Jesus did, including descending to the dead, was in service of others. He even allowed his dead body to be taken off the cross, washed, incensed, and laid in a tomb. Jesus, in his infinite charity and goodness, knew the burial process would be meaningful to his grieving followers.
Perhaps it’s the same with modern funerals. I told Billy Curl that, being claustrophobic, I couldn’t stand the thought of being placed in a casket, then in a vault, and being buried six feet under the ground, even if I was dead. It seemed unnatural to me. “I just want to be burned on a pyre,” I said.
Curl, the portrait of a reserved, non-judgmental undertaker, just smiled and nodded. He said he understood but that I should consider what rituals might be meaningful for my family.
So much of the language surrounding hot-button social issues like abortion centers on a person’s rights to their own body.
“Who am I to tell a woman she can’t do as she pleases with her own body,” a pro-choice friend recently asked me.
From a legal or scientific standpoint it’s hard to argue with that. Still, the best theology I’ve studied teaches me that neither you, nor I, nor this hypothetical woman, really own our own bodies. We didn’t create them, and they’re not ours to do with as we please.
We belong to one another, and to God, and once we realize that, we make choices based less on our own preferences – embalming or cremation, lots of flowers or no flowers, childbirth or abortion – and based more on the preferences of the ones we love.
As I thought about that, I realized what a gentlemanly thing Jesus did to let his mother lay him in the tomb. Suddenly, that funeral for Jesus made a lot more sense, and the thought of my own body being buried in the ground didn’t seem so suffocating.
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Galen Holley/Daily Journal