Comments: Opinion - 8 April 2017

Pleased that Kelvin sees funerals as happy occasions - just wish the funeral rites were less mournful. But what of trolleys - the whole point is that we don't need to respect the body so the cheapest possible coffin on a trolley is the Christian way to go.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 8 April 2017 at 1:45pm BST

Professor Wright - spot on sermon in structure, length, tone and content.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 8 April 2017 at 1:59pm BST

I just wonder how much this myth can be pushed. A perfect storm (N T Wright) is the product of chaos theory becoming systemic in weather interactions, not divine planning or outcomes. In the end, what Jesus was expecting (among such messianic figures) did not happen - the fulfilment of Israel, the ending of history as known. This is a sort of mindset of inhabiting a particular place in history, so far as history can be done, until you realised the sleight of hand involved in such time and place travel. The story told like this cannot be universal because it is too reliant on the historical accident - again, so far as history is involved and not mythical reconstruction.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 8 April 2017 at 3:04pm BST

If you outsource everything (Roger Bolton) then the outsourcer loses the ability to discern whether the product is any good. Secondly, the outsourcing may happen as a result of a cheaper bid, but once the in-house has gone, the price shoots up. This has happened in education and health. It never works.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 8 April 2017 at 3:11pm BST

Kevin Holdsworth's piece was heart-warming - it's so easy to see funerals as dreary occasions which add another pressure to an already over-full diary.

They needn't be dreary though, many families now want to celebrate a life as much as to mourn a death. I often feel much as I did when a uni chaplain at graduations: sad that I wouldn't see these students again, but happy they're finally going out into the world they've been preparing for. It's a beginning as much as an ending.

Fortunately it's not compulsory to use the C of E's official rite, though there is now lots of useful supplementary material in CW. I see funerals as a chance to be creative; the service should reflect the deceased's personality and interests and the family's wishes as much as possible. To me this is a chance to show the love of God for that person as an individual, lovingly made in God's own image. Therefore I treat the deceased with as much respect as I can - meet the hearse at the curb, lead the procession into church, bow to the coffin at key points, etc. I also lay my hand on the coffin at the commendation and committal (if one is in church and the other at the crematorium). I find this personal approach is much appreciated and has quite often been the start of the bereaved's faith journey.

Family firms of funeral directors are often much better at treating the deceased with dignity than the big chains; I've worked with quite a few firms who usually carry the coffin in. One funeral I did was for a 19-year-old lad who'd died of muscular dystrophy. 6 men from his family carried him into church to the recording 'He ain't heavy, he's my brother'. Not a dry eye in the place.

It's been noted that the number of people asking for church funerals is decreasing (except in areas where the crematorium is a long way away). I think if more clergy were prepared to stop imposing the Church's agenda on the families and place the families' wishes in the context of God's love, we'd see more people coming into church.

Posted by Janet Fife at Sunday, 9 April 2017 at 11:59am BST

@Kate
"But what of trolleys - the whole point is that we don't need to respect the body so the cheapest possible coffin on a trolley is the Christian way to go."

Huh!?!?
Kate,
I usually find your posts thoughtful. But this?
Are you being ironic or something and I've missed it?
Jesus honoured our human bodies by taking on Himself flesh of our flesh.
At Baptism our bodies become the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit.
In the Eucharist Christ Himself comes into the body of the faithful Christian, as St.Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

Christ's own body was washed, anointed, enshrouded and reverently laid in a tomb. It might have been tossed aside on the rubbish-heap.

He took on our flesh that our bodies might be transformed into the likeness of his glorious body.

Posted by John U.K. at Sunday, 9 April 2017 at 1:19pm BST

I think that to show any lack of respect to a body is unspeakably cruel to relatives and is both unkind and ungodly.

Funerals are places where every ounce of kindness and respect that is in us is called upon.

Whatever Kate is talking about, it isn't the Christian way that is practised around here. Indeed, I hope it is practised nowhere.

Posted by Kelvin Holdsworth at Sunday, 9 April 2017 at 4:27pm BST

John

I see death as something to be celebrated because Jesus has transformed death for us. And once I am gone, my body is just an empty husk with no value. I'd far rather my family spent money on a wake to celebrate than on a coffin.

In another part of my life, I have written extensively on Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians viewed death as a passage but believed that physical remains travelled with us. That is why Tutankhamun's tomb was full - he quite literally was taking it with him. Mummies were elaborate - if you could afford it - because that was one's heavenly body. It is a possible theology - but it is not what Christians believe. Jesus himself just got a shroud, no coffin at all, although elaborate coffins were very much still part of Roman Culture and Joseph of Arimathea could have provided one. But would Mary's reaction have been the same if she saw a coffin still in the tomb?

So, no, I don't believe in any veneration of the body after death - otherwise we risk importing Egyptian theology instead of Christian beliefs. Do enough for decency but no more. Mum shared my views. For Dad we deliberately chose the cheapest wood coffin available, not through lack of love but because we believed he was in heaven.

I do not mean to offend but for me funerals are a celebration that someone had finally been called home. I long for the day. And I won't care about the body left behind. When loved ones go I am sad because I miss them - but I berate myself for that selfishness - but I am so glad for them.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 9 April 2017 at 4:31pm BST

"They needn't be dreary though, many families now want to celebrate a life as much as to mourn a death. I often feel much as I did when a uni chaplain at graduations: sad that I wouldn't see these students again, but happy they're finally going out into the world they've been preparing for. It's a beginning as much as an ending."

I find it really heartwarming to see others express that sort of sentiment.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 9 April 2017 at 4:38pm BST

Kelvin, So glad you have raised the matter of trollies. Trollies have no place in a funeral , the caring arms of the Pall Bearers says it all.

If Sir Winston Churchill in his lead lined coffin could be carried by soldiers up the steps of St Pauls, so can every other soul being brought to their church be carried in the arms of their fellow Christian.

By the way it is the family who should tell the Undertakers their wishes, not the other way round. If they wish to go to their church prior to cremation, so it should be, even if inconvenient to the daily programme of the funeral director.

Posted by Fr John Emlyn at Sunday, 9 April 2017 at 5:16pm BST

I think each family has its own ways of handling the death of a loved one.

My partner says (only half-jokingly) that she'd like to be laid on a boat, pushed out onto the water, and then have flaming arrows shot at it (a la 'Game of Thrones'). Well that's a statement I guess.

At work, as a nurse, obviously I've laid out many bodies, and tried to get them looking nice for when their relatives come in. One thing I've generally found in nursing culture (which I like) is that we continue to talk to the person, calling them by name, as we wash the bodies and dress them.

To me, it is still *their* body and sacred and deserves tenderness and affection - and an acknowledgment that here is the vessel of a human being's whole life. That deserves some reverence and reflection.

Of course, like many Christians, I believe in the resurrection, and a new and magnificently physical body. And I recognise that the soul departs a deceased body. Nevertheless, I always treasure the privilege of making someone's body nice for when a family comes to pay their last respects.

It is the least we can do, to try to find some dignity in a process of illness that sadly can strip a person's dignity in bodily terms like body fluids, pain, or mental awareness.

At the end, dignity and respect and rest are some comfort - not, I suppose, for the deceased, but for those who are left behind. So we speak to the deceased by name, and maybe that comforts us as well.

Even in death, this is a person. This body has been their body. My mother was a Gordon. At her funeral, after a desperate two years of dementia, we covered the coffin in Dress Gordon tartan.

She would have really liked that touch. We were continuing to acknowledge *her*.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Sunday, 9 April 2017 at 8:02pm BST

I agree with Kelvin Holdsworth about trolleys at funerals. Funerals are occasions of emotion and a time for reflection. If there are enough able-bodied people at the funeral to carry the coffin then it is a dignified and memorable mark of respect and affection.

Posted by Pam at Sunday, 9 April 2017 at 11:10pm BST

N.T. Wrights's metaphor for Palm Sunday i.e., the "perfect storm" is melodramatic and sensationalist,ironically missing the point.

I live in one of Maritime Provinces referenced in Wright's piece. The meteorological phenomena that claimed the Andrea Gail was indeed the perfect storm; but the fate of Andrea Gail and her crew is sadly common place and routine for Maritime and New England fishermen ( or "fisher folk" if you like, although women in the fishing industry don't care for the tag).

If it were not the perfect storm it would have been be some other regular gale, some routine nor'easter, some other almost predictable hazard of the north east Atlantic fishery, that have claimed lives for centuries. Therein is the real metaphor.


The death of Jesus is remarkable only because it was so unremarkable, so ordinary, so routinely insipid, so completely undifferentiated from the similar deaths in his time and place.

The death of Jesus is an act of solidarity. Its meaning is to be found not in some cosmic melodrama but in the fact that it is, historically speaking, almost a footnote, a marginal note, accessible to us only because some who loved him remembered him,and so his death is a template for every victim of human rights abuses--as often anonymous as they are ubiquitous.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 10 April 2017 at 2:44am BST

Kate: while excessive veneration of mortal remains carries with it the risk of importing ancient Egyptian ideas, surely you must recognise the equal risk of excessive disrespect for the physical self importing gnostic or Buddhist ideas of the physical world being evil, which are just as contrary to Christian teaching.

As far as not needing the physical body after death, I suppose I retain an open mind about precisely how the resurrection will take place. If we talk about "the earth and the sea shall give up their dead and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed", then that seems to suppose the perfecting of our existing body, rather than some sort of transhumanist downloading into a new body. Jesus was resurrected in the same body in which he died - wounds and all - and he is surely the model for our own resurrection.

Posted by Jo at Monday, 10 April 2017 at 7:51am BST

Re: Jo, "Jesus was resurrected in the same body in which he died - wounds and all ..." Something of a tendentious statement.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 10 April 2017 at 2:49pm BST

@Rod: you have to torture the gospel text pretty badly to reach another conclusion, as far as I can see. If you don't accept the gospels then of course all bets are off.

Posted by Jo at Monday, 10 April 2017 at 9:29pm BST

IMHO, Kelvin and Kate are addressing different issues.
Regarding trolleys, I think this is very much a matter of local custom. I well remember my surprise at the first funeral I attended in England, to see professional pallbearers supplied by the Funeral Director. I have never seen that in some 500 funerals I have taken in NZ. And at every one of those, the body has lain on a trolley. What are "proper trestles"? No parish I have been part of possesses such accoutrements - does the FD provide them?
I agree with Kelvin; if at all possible I prefer the body to be carried into the church and out again, but during the service it always lies on a trolley, perhaps covered by a pall. And when the FD brings the body 45 minutes before the service, with just one assistant, I am not about to wreck my back by offering to carry the coffin to the front of the church. FDs' fees are extortionate already, so I would not expect a family to add to them by employing pallbearers, or go to the trouble of getting 6 family and friends to arrive early for that purpose.
My culture shock was all the greater when I was involved in my father-in-law's funeral in Texas. For about 80% of cases there the body is not even present, so the issue of trolleys does not arise. Normal practice is to cremate the body within a day or two of death, and have a memorial service with the ashes present. In their view, embalming (essential in that climate) and coffins are unnecessary extravagances. I do find that viewpoint unsettling, as I regard the gathering around the body to be an importantly meaningful part of a funeral, but when in Rome.....
Regarding the Christian attitude to the dead body, and the cost of coffins, those are separate questions. I agree with Kate that the cheapest wooden coffin is quite approriate, and made such a choice for both my parents. But their bodies had been the Temple of the Holy Spirit for 90+years. Sure, they did not need them anymore, but an important part of "committing someone who has died at a great age into the love of God" (to use Kelvin's lovely phrase) is to tread their dead bodies with no less love and respect than we did when they were alive.

Posted by Edward Prebble at Monday, 10 April 2017 at 10:03pm BST

@ Jo, "If you don't accept the gospels then of course all bets are off." Accept them on what basis, I wonder? Literally?

But before we even get to the gospels there are problems with the statement, "Jesus was resurrected in the same body in which he died - wounds and all ..." For example, would it not be better to say simply that Jesus died, rather than say he died "in the same body", as if it were a suit of clothes. Our bodies are biological,and require the context of a biosphere. Clearly, if one "accepts" the range of scriptural witness and tries to synthesize it, then Jesus no longer inhabits a biosphere, no?

As for "wounds and all", the so called doubting Thomas story is likely crafted as an alternative to a gnostic Christian narrative. As such the story has meaning, even if it does not describe an historical play by play.

There have been fairly long back and forth threads on this subject here on TA in the past, so one struggles to find enthusiasm to reprise it.

For my part, I think the empty tomb story is based on a legend, one which underwent expansion and incorporation, and has secondary meaning in conjunction with the appearance stories. The appearances, for the "chosen witnesses" were some sort of religious experience, likely all interior experiences, perhaps spirit filled in some way. We can understand them as a kind proleptic eschatological event. The original "appearances" were phenomena available only to those who "experienced" them. What we have access to is perhaps third generation Christian reflection which we have to contend with theologically. The bigger problem is the very notion of an eschaton knowing what we now know about the eventual fate of the universe.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 10 April 2017 at 11:52pm BST

Beautifully put, Susannah. You do them all honor.

I agree, Rod: the resurrection accounts are clearly myth; whatever the underlying reality, the gospels tell us far more about the authors than events. It's a shame that Wright, trapped in his doctrinal straitjacket, can't use his formidable talents to explore this.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 11 April 2017 at 11:45am BST

I assume that Kate doesn't believe in sacraments either.

I was at a (RC) funeral yesterday where a trolley was wheeled in before the service and placed in front of the altar. The coffin was then carried in and out by pallbearers in the usual way. More dignified than wheeling it in but the supermarket (or rather NHS) look of cheap aluminium contrasted with the warm and dignified liturgy.

Posted by David Emmott at Tuesday, 11 April 2017 at 4:23pm BST

' the resurrection accounts are clearly myth; whatever the underlying reality, the gospels tell us far more about the authors than events'

I'm really impressed that the disciples were willing to be imprisoned, beaten, and even face being tortured to death, to defend a story they knew not to be true (only a myth, like Mithras). The Roman sentries at the tomb could easily have been produced to verify Jesus' non-resurrection, but strangely chose not to. People behaved very oddly in those days, human nature must have changed an awful lot.

Posted by Janet Fife at Tuesday, 11 April 2017 at 4:46pm BST

I made no comment on the sincerity of the disciples' beliefs, Janet, nor the nature of Jesus' resurrection. The style of the gospel accounts is a separate issue. Jesus could've bodily risen from the tomb, and the gospels, written decades later and rich with theological imagery, would still be mythic in nature. Myth doesn't mean lie or fraud.

Regarding sincerity, E.P. Sanders said it well: "That Jesus' followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know."

Sincerity doesn't, of itself, prove anything but honesty: people have been willing to die for all manner of contradictory beliefs. I'm sure the disciples sincerely believed that Jesus rose again. I don't know what happened, anymore than Sanders does, although I suspect a religious experience of some kind. I'm far more interested on the effect of Jesus' life today.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 11 April 2017 at 6:55pm BST

There is a Holy Week sale on online courses from NTWright. Half off. But you still have to buy the book.

Posted by Melissa at Tuesday, 11 April 2017 at 6:59pm BST

"I assume that Kate doesn't believe in sacraments either."

Not so. I believe in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper'.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 12 April 2017 at 1:29am BST
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