Monday, May 10, 2010

Kim Fabricius on funerals

Kim Fabricius has written a fascinating reflection on how even many Christian funeral services undermine the gospel in a culture that so desperately needs to hear the truth about death and dying. Here is a taste:

Because it’s all about me and mine, funerals are now becoming customised “celebrations”, upbeat, nothing sad, no grief, no frank recognition of the grim reality of death – this is what ministers are hearing more and more when we meet the families of the “deceased”. Coffins are as likely to be draped with photos, flags, or sports memorabilia as with Christian symbols. One minute you’re singing “Amazing Grace”, and the next (never mind the inconsistency!) you’re hearing a CD of Frank Sinatra belting out “I Did It My Way”. And poems are read that are not only – let’s face it – mawkish and banal, but also completely untruthful: “Do not stand at my grave and cry: / I am not there, / I did not die” – but you did, you know. There is mounting pressure on ministers to collude in this make-believe, to direct and choreograph it.
I have ben intending to write some reflections of my own on Christian commemoration of the dead. While you're waiting for that, go over to Ben Myers' blog and read Kim's piece.


Nick said...

Hi Byron.

I recently buried my Mum. She had requested the burial service from the Book of Common Prayer. (Mum, although making her peace with modern liturgy later in life, never gave up her love of the old prayer book).

Her minister (who's also our minister) did a great job. The BCP service pulls no punches. It names death for the enemy it is. But it also doesn't skimp on hope. I suspect they knew more about both death and hope in the 17th C than we do today.

Mum had not been clear on burial or cremation. I decided I wanted her buried - as I get older I'm increasingly warming to the symbolism of being laid in the ground to await the last trumpet. (By the way, you must look at Jules Verne's grave in Amiens - just google it - if you're writing on this stuff - he seemed to have the right idea - with the best headstone I have ever seen). Any way, we had the burial after the service - and a lot of people came on from the church to the cemetry. Of course, BCP excels itself with the words at the graveside.

Instead of throwing the rose petals suggested by the undertaker, we asked for some earth to be placed there for people to throw if they wanted to. I don't think I'll forget the sound my clod of earth made on the coffin at the bottom of the grave. There's a tangibility to the sound that underlines the reality of the separation. But with the words of hope from BCP ("in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life") still fresh in my mind - the sound was good. Real, yes. Final, no.



byron smith said...

Thanks Nick.

I'm sorry to hear about your mother's death. It is good know that you found that the BCP service ministered to you. Our grief is indeed not like those who have no hope, as Paul says.

I was thinking I might do another series on "Burial by the book" (like my recent "Baptism by the book" series). I am yet to re-read the BCP service, but my memory of it is that it is very solid.

My instincts lie very much towards burial rather than cremation, but I'd like to think about this more.

And I agree that using earth rather than petals on the coffin is entirely appropriate. I have only been to one funeral which included a graveside committal, and earth was used. Despite seeing it scores of times in films and on TV, there was still something incredibly powerful about it symbolically. So much better than watching a coffin disappear behind a curtain, or (worse yet) not even seeing a coffin at all.

Anonymous said...

For the truth about death and dying (for real, and completely free of any consoling religious mythologies,)please check out this reference:

Also this extraordinary segment re the Purpose of Death