Why Bodies in Boxes?
#WhyBuryBodiesInBoxSixFeetDown is the podcast for November 5, 2017. Why do cemeteries exist and why do we bury people like that? In a time when people are choosing cremation, Mark Kurowski gives us something to consider that is filled with hope and explains why cemeteries exist. Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone.#John6 #Cemeteries #SecondComing #Resurrection #Hope
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For The Church of Saint Raphael the Archangel, Munster, IN and My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 11/5/2017 The Feast of All Saints, or All Saints Sunday.
Please pause this audio and read John 6:37-40.
Why do we have cemeteries? Why do we take bodies, put them in boxes, dig a hole six feet down in the earth (at least here in the Midwestern United States we do), put the body in a box in the hole, and cover it up with dirt? What we do not remember from our history as Christians is that cemeteries are protests against paganism. The word “cemetery” comes from the Greek word “koimētḗrion” which means “sleeping place”. The cemetery was the place where we let our bodies sleep in the earth until Jesus came again and our bodies were raised for the judgment. It was thought that Jesus would come from the East, so that is why cemeteries were filled with people who were buried with their feet toward the East. They did so because we believed, and STILL believe, that we will be raised up on the last day.
This product of belief in Jesus Christ, that we will be raised on the last day, says Jesus in the Gospel of John, will culminate in our participation in the New Heaven and the New Earth, says Revelation 20 and 21.
There are passages in Saint Paul that address the fact that we will be buried and raised. First, a corruptible body will be buried and a resurrected spiritualized physical body will be raised. What is buried is corruptible. What is raised is incorruptible. What is sown is dishonor. What is raised is glory. The first body is from earth. The so called “second body” is renewed by heaven. Even those who are alive in their bodies at the Second Coming, those bodies will be changed. This is all in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58.
Being buried in a cemetery said, “I believe that when I die, my body will sleep here until Christ comes again. When he does, this body will be raised from the earth and it will be renewed, just like the new heaven and new earth, where death will be no more, dying will be no more, mourning and crying will be no more, because sin will be no more.” Being buried in the cemetery said, “I believe in the Resurrection of the Dead and the Life Everlasting.” All of this is laid out in Revelation 20:11-15 and followed up by Revelation 21 with its description of how Heaven and Earth will be after death has been defeated.
This is accomplished mechanically in that the Son came down from heaven. He took on Mary’s flesh and became Jesus. He offered himself as the eternal sacrifice, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” By offering himself as the payment of debt for all sins, he paid off death’s debt. Death no longer could corrupt his body. His resurrected body is physical, it is spiritualized, and he sits at the Right Hand of God with this body in Heaven.
When we are baptized, the Holy Spirit joins our physical body and soul with his physical body and divinity. Baptism is a “uniting our death with Jesus’ death.” This means that our bodies die, they share the same, exact same, death as Jesus’ body which means we share in the same resurrection as his resurrection because our bodies are united with him in death. When we live our lives in trusting in him, when we die, our physical bodies are laid in the “sleeping bed”, the cemetery, to await the Resurrection of the Dead. All of this is packed into John 6:37-40 which is the Gospel I chose for today.
Listen to Jesus, “I came down from heaven…I will not lose anything [the Father] gave me…I will raise it up on the last day…everyone who sees the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.” This is why our bodies wait silently in the cemetery. They wait as a testimony our belief in the saving power of Jesus Christ to transform humanity, transform the Heavens, and transform the Earth into a world that is no longer subject to corruption, no longer subject to pain, no longer subject to death, no longer subject to evil and sin.
All I can say to this at this moment is, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
You may ask, OK, so that is why we put bodies in boxes six feet down, but what about the soul?
For those who believe, we will be transformed, says 1 Peter 3:18ff. and 1 Corinthians 3:14-15. They tell us that our souls are cleansed of any remnant of sin. The Orthodox and Protestants believe that any remnants of sin are cleansed upon our entry into heaven. Catholics of all stripes believe that we enter a time of purging that cleanses any remnants of sin.
There is this great story about a very poor disabled beggar named Lazarus who sits at the door of a Rich Man who ignores him every day. Jesus tells the story that conveniently the beggar and rich man die on the same day. The Rich Man goes to hell for his lack of concern for humanity and the poor beggar goes to the “bosom of Abraham” and stands with the Lord. This is where souls go. The soul goes to be with the one with whom they were joined in Baptism: Jesus. Our souls go to be with the Lord in heaven at the right hand of the Father.
There are several implications to this. First, it means that our bodies deserve special treatment. They will be renewed in the end, but they are inextricably tied to our souls. The body AND the soul will be redeemed to heaven. One immediately, the other when all of creation is renewed when Jesus Christ comes again. So, the body is not like rocket boosters on the space shuttles of days gone by, that are released when they have served their purpose. Disposed of with no fanfare or recognition, as I am sad to say is happening more and more as people stop believing in the Resurrection of the Dead.
Salvation is the goal, friends. Salvation is the renewal of all things to be like they were before the biting of the fruit from the forbidden tree. Salvation is a physical and spiritual reality. Just think of your body with no need for doctors. Think of your behavior with no need to apologize for hurting someone or Confession to apologize for breaking God’s commands. Salvation is a spiritual and physical reality.
So, back to the body, the body is important for salvation. It should be treated special because it is joined to our soul. We should eat well, sleep appropriately, exercise like we should, pray regularly, meditate, and most of all rejoin ourselves to Jesus in the Eucharist on a regular basis.
As the regular life of sin deteriorates our bodies and souls, so the renewal in Christ in the Eucharist reverses the curse of Adam. Coming to Mass on a regular basis and receiving the Eucharist are part of the routine maintenance of both body and soul.
Gail O’Day in her commentary has a great line about this salvific process: “Jesus has come down from heaven to make God’s will visible and accessible to humankind.” I want to make a couple of alterations to this. Listen, “The Son came down from heaven to make God’s will visible in Jesus and accessible in Baptism and the Eucharist to humankind.”
If you want this, you may be thinking, “How do we make all this our own? How do we get the promise and active gift of salvation?” Well, in three easy payments of…No. Actually, all you have to do is believe in Him and be baptized or be baptized and believe in Him. Believe Him. Love Him. Be baptized into Him. Speak to Him. Hear Him. Know Him. Receive Him.
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.” This, too, can be yours. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2017.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian