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Cremation or burial

Padre James Bhagwan
Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Recently, my good friend Paul Takala passed away and according to his final wishes was cremated.

I learnt that the former police commissioner and diplomat, the late Isikia Savua, was also cremated last Friday according to his personal wish.

As none of Paul's family knew anything about cremation, it was his Hindu friends who had made the preparations for the funeral pyre.

Living in a multi-religious, multi-cultural country such as Fiji, it is easy to understand why cremation would be thought by many to be a purely Hindu practice.

Given that as we do not yet have a electric or gas crematorium in Fiji, meant that both my brother Paul and the late Mr Savua were cremated on a funeral pyre made of dogo, or mangrove logs.

Immediately after Paul's funeral, which I officiated, I found myself set upon by many iTaukei friends, curious as to what cremation meant in Christian terms. We discussed what in our funeral rituals were cultural traditions and what were part of our faith.

Over the next few days I found myself explaining the same thing over and over again. Today I share some of it with you.

Cremation, while still a controversial practice, is nonetheless widely performed throughout the world.

For those who favour cremation, it offers the following benefits:

The entire process of cremation, whether or not it includes a service or just the incineration of the corpse, is far cheaper than burial, even though a coffin or container is used.

For those prone to ponder the lasting appearance, the process of cremation offers a quick, purifying process. This helps people to banish the thought of the body lying for decades in the ground while suffering slow decay.

The "cremains", as the ashes are termed, can be kept at home in a fashionable container or urn, thus offering the family the opportunity to remember the loved-one on a daily basis. Or there can, according to the wishes of the deceased, be scattered as a part of the process of release or "letting in" by the bereaved family.

Individuals favouring burial emphasise:

The sanctity of the human body and value the fact that burial keeps the body intact.

Burial is less "final" to its advocates and affords those left behind the chance to remember the person either at a grave site or vault.

Funerals for those to be buried afford dignity and promoters for the burial process assert that the body belongs to God; let no man take it into his hands to destroy.

Today cremation is accepted by the Roman Catholic Church as well most Protestant Churches.

Timothy George, executive editor of Christianity Today magazine and dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University writes, "Regardless of whether a believer chooses burial or cremation, the Christian church should offer a funeral liturgy in which the reality of death isn't camouflaged and the resurrection of the body is affirmed.

"We solemnise our loved ones' departure by reminding ourselves that we brought nothing into this world, and that we carry nothing out.

"Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ".

The believer's hope, whether we will submit our remains to burial or cremation, is that the body that is buried or incinerated is not the body that will ultimately dwell with the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:35, 37, 42-44 reads: "But someone may ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?' . . . When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else . . . So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body."

No one needs worry that the body will be destroyed and thus unable to participate in that "great catching away". No. The body that is interred will either slowly decay or burn rapidly, but God will give all of His children a new body, glorious, and incorruptible to dwell with Him forever.

Once and for all the negativity of death and separation from God will be nullified.

While Christian tradition clearly favours burial, the Bible nowhere explicitly condemns cremation. Evangelist Billy Graham has noted (what Christians have always believed) that cremation cannot prevent a sovereign God from calling forth the dead at the end of time.

As a Christian, do I really believe that my awesome, God of power and might, Lord of Hosts, does not have the power to resurrect me from the elements in which my body has either been decomposed into, or my ashes which have been scattered? Of course not!

My faith, my heart, my mind and my soul tells me that the Creator of all things seen and unseen has the power to do this.

"The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Corinthians 15:26).

The real question for Christians is not whether one is buried or cremated but the meaning given to these acts.

Our modern funeral customs tend to anesthetise us from the ugly reality of death with soft music, plush carpets, and expensive caskets.

Often family members have strong feelings about the way they want to be laid to rest. Some Christians are firmly opposed to cremation, while others much prefer it to burial.

The reasons are varied, but often private and very meaningful to them. How you want to be laid to rest is a personal decision. It is important to discuss your wishes with your family, and also know the preferences of your family members. This will make funeral preparations a little easier for everyone involved.

May the rest of your week be blessed with light, love and peace.

* Reverend JS Bhagwan serves as a minister of the Dudley/Suva Circuit in the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Methodist Church or this newspaper.





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