Since we believe in the resurrection of the body, and that Jesus appears in the resurrected form to Mary and the disciples with the nail holes in his hands and the wound in his side, what is the implication for post death organ donations and cremation rather than burial of the body? 

April 20, 2020

While I am an organ donor myself and while I have accompanied many families— much to their chagrin— to the crematory fire, I wish more Christians appreciated the bodily nature of the resurrection claim to ask such a question as yours. The Risen Jesus, as you note, is still the Crucified Christ. He remains who he was. Resurrection means we remain who we were, body and soul. 

Though the Risen Jesus can pass through walls and go unrecognized, he still also eats fish, bears the wounds life gave him, and can be recognized by those yearning for his forgiveness. What scripture envisions for the End is new creation not evacuation. Heaven (really, just another word for the presence of God) comes down to Earth to be realized, just as Jesus taught us to pray. We’re not “just passing through” this material existence nor are we flying away on some glad morning. Christianity is not Spiritually. Biblically-speaking, there is no spiritual part of you (the eternal soul) that is detachable from your incarnate, embodied existence. For that matter, there is no part of anyone that is “eternal” save the gracious gifting of Jesus Christ. 

No matter what the shitty poem says, your loved ones for damn sure should stand by your grave and weep when you die because you ARE there, in the grave, awaiting, as the prayerbook says, the return of Jesus Christ and the final redemption of your body. Just like Jesus on Holy Saturday, when you die, you really are dead— who the hell are we to think we make it out of life better than the incarnate God? You’re not, as the poem waxes, a thousand glints of snow, dust returning to the ghost in the machine. You’re a good creation the Artificer is determined to restore. 

We go through this life in the bodies we bear and it’s precisely those lives God has promised to redeem. Does this mean we’ll still have tennis elbow in the eschaton? I don’t think we should push on the promise too much as the Easter stories show both a continuity and a discontinuity between the Risen Christ and the Crucified Jesus. What we should do as Christians, however, is push against the popular language of Spirituality, which frankly reigns supreme in the hospice and palliative care disciplines, that tells us the person in the bed, rendered mute by illness or unknowing by dementia, “is not really here.” It’s a small and easy step to go from “she’s not really here” to “therefore, I don’t need to be there at her bedside.” 

The disavowal of the incarnate nature of existence and the spiritualizing of the resurrection is one of the oldest heresies in the Church. It’s called Gnosticism. It’s an attractive idol and always has been for the Church. I think one effect of the COVID contagion, where many cannot stand vigil at their loved ones’ bedsides, holding their hand and kissing them, is that we’re rediscovering the necessary embodiedness of the Gospel. My reluctance about cremation has to do with aiding and abetting a secular culture conspiring to spiritualize an incarnate Gospel. As God makes clear to the prophet Ezekiel, it’s not as if Almighty God who made us from dust cannot reconstitute us from it. The God who spoke all into being can call life back from ash and dust, no problem. It has less to do with what God is able to do with us, then, and more to do with what we do to give a coherent witness to what God will one day do for all of creation. Accompanying bodies to the grave with singing still strikes me as the clearer testimony to offer the world about our God who will come again to raise the dead.

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