22 March 2015

A Brief Postscript on the Place of the Dead

Years ago I wrote positively about worshiping at St. Helen's Bishopsgate in London. What we found distinctively meaningful was worshiping with the living and the dead whose crypts occupied spaces below and around the rest of us. In other words, a tangible expression of the Creed's affirmation of our belief in "the communion of the saints."

For comments along a similar line you can read Peter Leithart's post "The Disappearing Body" here. Drawing from a book by Candi Cann, Leithart directs his criticism toward the Western Christian practice of embalming the remains of the deceased:
Embalmment in the last [nineteenth] century was not for the preservation of the body and its ultimate resurrection but rather for the avoidance of the natural process of decay after death. In this way, embalmment was not, as it might first seem, a way of bringing us closer to the dead, but actually a way of further estranging us from them. The dead, as they are, are not presentable and acceptable company; they must first be sewn shut, stuffed, drained, transfused, and made up before we deem them acceptable.
By choosing not to embalm their dead, Jews (and Muslims) better recognize the twin virtues of an honest recognition of the un-natural reality of death as well as an appropriate respect for the dead. The American "Disney-fication" of death serves neither.

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