Everyone wants to live longer but no one wants to grow older. When you grow old, you must be prepared to die. In mythology, one day the goddess of the dawn fell in love with a young man, so she gave him eternal life. But she made a tragic oversight. She had forgotten to keep him young forever. As a result even though he lived on and on, he got older and older and experienced all of the problems that go along with ageing. The gift of living forever became a curse. To live eternally in this sin-cursed body would be miserable beyond comprehension.
As believers, we shall one day be raised in the likeness of Jesus’ “glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). This shall be our blissful expectation which is beyond our imagination. Eternal life for the believers then is not a curse but a blessing. Thus there should be a meaningful expression of our faith in the living God when our loved one departs to be with the Lord.
For the Christian, the main purpose of the funeral is to glorify God. The funeral service is a worship service. It is difficult for the unbeliever to understand how the Christian can worship God even in the midst of pain and sorrow. Yet, by the grace of God, it is possible. We can say with Job, “The Lord gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
The funeral service will lack the depth of meaning and ministry if it is not plan as an act of Christian worship. If it is to be a worship service, the funeral must focus on the living God and not on a dead body.
The second purpose for the funeral is to dignify man. Man is made in the image of God, and the body of the believer is the temple of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit “unto the day of redemption”. The body will one day be raised in glory. Throughout the Bible, believers tenderly cared for their dead and gave them an honorable burial. Salvation involves the whole person, and that includes the body. The message of the funeral ought to remind the believers that life is the gift of God and death is real.
The third purpose of the funeral is to testify to our faith. It is a time of witness as well as a time of worship. This does not mean that the entire service is an evangelistic meeting.
The funeral service should fortify those who mourn. The ministry is for the living, not for the dead. Bereaved persons feel very lonely, and the funeral service provides friends and loved ones to gather around and encourage the bereaved family.
The memorial service is basically a funeral without the presence of the body of the deceased. The body may have been donated to science, cremated, or perhaps never be found. A memorial service does have definite advantages. It can be planned for a time convenient for most people. The service may be held in the church or even in a home. The absence of the body can help to give a more worshipful atmosphere to the service.
Cremation or Burial?
The number of people making arrangements to have their bodies cremated is growing in Singapore. Advocates say that it is cheaper, does not take up valuable land as cemeteries do, and not need to face exhumations in 15 years’ time.
The normal practice of our church is to bury the dead except in unusual circumstances for example in times of war, plague (cf. 1 Sam. 31:12,13; Amos 6:9-12), where disposal of the dead by burning may be mandatory. In fact, some who died of diseases like SARS and AIDS, the best and the safest way to dispose of the contaminated bodies was by cremation.
John Davis from Grace Theological Seminary writes:“It is neither sinful or evil to practise cremation because the biblical, theological, and historical evidence does not support such strong language. Much of the argument for burial does not come from direct scriptural command, but comes from analogy, example and symbolism. Even though these components are not inconsequential, they form a basis for preference rather than dogma.
This conclusion also recognizes the legitimacy of cremation under certain circumstances. For example, cremation may be required by state law (as in parts of Japan). Cremation may be desirable in order to transport home an individual who has died in a foreign land.
Additionally, there is nothing inherently evil or sinful with the cremation of the body. The body will ultimately be reduced to dust. The difference in reaching that point is time and method. It is preferable for the Christian to bury by inhumation (burial) whenever possible.” However the reasons for burial are as follows:
First, burial was practised by both the Jews and Christians. It was the custom of the Jews to put their dead in the tombs. The Old Testament indicates that when a corpse was cremated, it was usually an expression of contempt for that individual or his principles. Biblical and church history therefore tends to favour burial as the proper way to take care of a dead body.
Second, cremation was associated with the heathen during past ages. In more recent times, atheists requested it as an expression of their disbelief in the resurrection.
Third, burial portrays the resurrection. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. Paul speaks of our perishable and earth-bound body as being “sown” into the earth. It is the “seed” from which it will spring into life. It is a picture which suggests burial rather than cremation.
Some who have thought of having their bodies cremated have no thought of acting in defiance against the Lord. Cremation does present a problem to God when He resurrects the bodies of the dead. Because Old Testament Jews, early Christians and Jesus Himself were buried, and because burial corresponds beautifully with the picture of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, burial is the preferred practice.