Cremation was legalised in the UK in 1902 and in Australia between 1891 and 1925 (depending on the state). However, it only became widely accepted in the Church of England in the 1940s, and the Catholic Church did not authorise the practice until 1963. The Orthodox Church prohibits cremation to this day. Most people are not well versed in the recent history of cremation, nevertheless, the question of whether cremation is equal to burial is one that priests encounter from time to time.
The reason that all Christian denominations rejected cremation until relatively recently has to do with its links to pagan burial rights encountered by the early church. In some pagan cultures, cremation was seen as a way of liberating the soul from the body, so that it could pass on to the “afterlife”. However, as Christians, we do not anticipate a disembodied afterlife; quite the opposite, we look forward to a bodily resurrection.
If we want to know what resurrection life looks like, we should turn to the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection in the gospels. When Jesus rose from the dead; he had a real, physical body. The disciples were able to touch him and he ate with them. Our physical bodies are a requisite component of human existence; that is to say, we need both body and soul to be human.
1 Corinthians 15. 42-44 says the following about the resurrection, “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.”
Those who belong to Jesus will be raised with physical bodies that are no longer subject to death and decay. This will be the case for all Christians, regardless of whether they have been buried or cremated. God created the universe from scratch; he will not require the remains of our bodies to remake them. If a deceased person is buried, their body will eventually decompose and be no different from a body that was cremated. The mode of burial in no way hinders God’s ability to raise a person to everlasting life in a renewed and restored creation, where heaven and earth are forever conjoined.
The Bible has nothing to say about required modes of burial, however, it goes without saying that the bodies of the dead should be treated with dignity and respect. In the case of cremation, this would normally mean that the ashes are buried in the ground, or in some cases, buried at sea.
Most importantly, this question reminds us that death need not have the last word because we have the sure and certain hope of resurrection life through Christ Jesus.
First published on the St Andrew’s, Springfield website on 1 November 2023.Jump to next article