The ugliness of death

Yesterday, Steve Kneale reported on new restrictions concerning burials and funerals that are being imposed in West Yorkshire. Grave-side mourners will be limited to 10 maximum (nb it is 6 here in Sandwell) but now, no mourners will be allowed at the Crematorium. Instead the Council will offer “direct cremations” with no mourners present and no funeral service.

Steve envisages the possibility that before long the same restrictions will extend to burials or that only the direct cremation will be allowed.[1] It sounds horrific doesn’t it. Even non-religious people find the idea that a body could just be disposed of without anyone there to mourn a grievous possibility.

Once again, this virus is exposing us to the reality of sin and idolatry’s ugly consequences. In 1 Corinthians 15:55, Paul asks:

Oh death where is your victory? Oh death where is your sting.”

For the believer, death has lost its sting, the fear and vicious pain that it causes. It is not that it isn’t without the deep pain of grief but we have hope when we mourn because we believe in the resurrection of the dead.

However, without Jesus, without the sure and certain hope of the resurrection, what do we have? The answer is absolutely nothing. Therefore the sting of death remains.  It is something horrific and ugly. It means we are heading into nothingness, what a crushing and terrifying thought.  Death without Jesus is lonely. We can create a level of sentimentality with our floral tributes, poems and tributes. Yet in the end, the truth is that without God, we face death on our own. No-one can come with us on that stage of the journey.

These cremations will be bleak and lacking in hope. Bodies will be put through the incinerator, mere body parts to be disposed of without ceremony.  Death has its verdict, it makes its judgement and declares that life has no meaning and no value. These bleak funerals expose the truth about Christ-less life, it is bleak and hopeless.

Next week, I will be taking one of the small grave-side committals.  It will be with a heavy heart. We are committing the body of a dear believer to the ground. He was part of our church for over 45 years.  He leaves behind a large and extended family as well as a church family who loved him, and love his wife very much and it will be deeply saddening that we may not all gather for the full celebration of the Gospel that we would expect at a time like this.

However, even though it will be small and stripped back. Even though there will be tears.  Even though it is going to be hard and it will be stripped back of hymns and tributes, what the Cornovrius lockdown cannot strip away is the hope in the Gospel that this family have. 

With Christ at the centre of your life, death can be faced without fear. Death does not have the last word, it does not get to give that verdict on you. With Christ in your life there is hope. With Christ in your life, death has lost its sting. With Christ in your life, whether your funeral is small or large, you do not have to face death alone. Jesus will be ready and waiting to take you through this last journey and to bring you safely home.

[1] If I read the article right, this may already be the only option already in Leeds.

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