What does the Bible say about Cremation? Part 1

I’ve had some reading time lately, being “stoved up” but healing from  brown recluse spider bite after-effects…and came across this gem in a recent book by Christian historical author Jane Kirkpatrick. For context, the book, Where Lilacs Still Bloom chronicles the true life story of  German housewife Hulda Krager whose passion was hybridizing apples, daffodils, and lilacs on her family farm. Sadly, she outlived her husband and all of her children…so she was well-acquainted with death.

In the first half of the 1900’s, it was the family’s privilege to prepare their dead loved ones for burial. My heart went soft and weepy at the thought, as I read the following taken from Hulda’s musings of her daughter on page 301 of the book:

“I thought of Martha and how we’d bathed her body and dressed her, choosing the right dress, weeping as I gently brushed her cheeks, prayed over her, all the acts of reverence honoring her life.”

This musing of Hulda’s was triggered by something an undertaker confided in her when he was over in her lilac garden, collecting starts to give to grieving families who used his services. He said this:

“My work (is) filled with stories told when people are grief stricken and weakened by loss. They let me into their lives in the most intimate ways, dressing and caring for their loved one, something that used to be done at home.”

So by now you are wondering where this is heading, right? Here’s *my* personal context. In high school, I took an English Comp class in which we were required to read a “descriptive” article detailing the process by which a dead person is embalmed. Suffice it to say, that there article convinced me that cremation was much to be preferred over embalming. For one thing…as the undertaker in the above quote said, the process of preparing someone for burial is a very intimate one. I don’t like the idea much, but always thought it was one of those necessary “evils”, if you will. However, that aside, embalming is gory, mutilating…I could go on and on, but feel free to read up on it if you truly want to go there.  Cremation seemed much preferable to me, in addition to being much more economical. I don’t want to leave my family saddled with a lot of funeral expenses and debt. And I didn’t think there were any other choices really. But I’ve always been bothered by the idea of cremation…I don’t really want my children to have to process the fact that their mother’s body was burned up in a crematorium.

I never stopped to think about checking it out in the Bible. What does God say about cremation and burial? How did Christians do it in the Bible? I did have an interesting conversation about it with a friend about 3 weeks ago, in which we both agreed that it didn’t seem biblical, but we couldn’t say why exactly, other than it seemed to have a pagan origin…funeral pyres, etc.

I’ll leave you with the final words of Hulda Krager spoken about the ways she’d prepared her beloved daughter for burial…

“all the acts of reverence honoring her life.”

Is there anything “honorable” or “reverencing” about subjecting a loved one to cremation or embalming? Personally, I think not.

Now don’t take this wrong. I realize state laws vary regarding our options when a loved one dies. And you might have chosen the cremation route for economical reasons, this is not in judgement of anyone’s decisions whatsoever. It is our soul and spirit that go on to heaven, or hell, not our body…and many saints have been burned at the stake (another reason to rethink cremation?) or died in house fires or explosions. This is not about the body being gone, or unable to be resurrected on the day Jesus returns…this issue is merely, does God have anything to say about how we treat the bodies of our dead?

More on this soon, with scripture!