The 2015 Clearnote Pastors Conference, titled The Last Enemy, was held at Clearnote Church in Bloomington, Indiana from February 18-20, 2015. The following is a transcript of session 5 on cremation, preached by Pastor Tim Bayly on February 19, 2015. See also the transcripts of sessions 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7.
The conference materials introduced this session as follows:
Cremation is an increasingly popular trend in these United States. But can Christians cremate in faith? This seminar will examine the practice of cremation under the lens of Scripture and will provide pastoral strategies for dealing with its increasing popularity.
Introduction: A lot of funerals
My wife’s and my first church out of seminary was in rural Wisconsin. It was in a little town of 1,500, and our manse was next to the church, and you knew they were related to each other because both of them were white with black trim and they were right next to each other. And right behind us was the funeral home–it was one of these situations in a small town where someone owned both the furniture store and the funeral home. And periodically the woman that ran the funeral home would have nobody to bury people, and so she’d ask me to bury them. I had a yoked parish of two churches 8 miles from each other, and my town church, I’d almost say the average age was 85 years old. And I can remember being so depressed that nobody close to my wife’s and my age, with our children, were in those churches–there just weren’t people our age there, especially in the town church–and thinking, Lord, the rest of my life am I just going to be burying people? And so I think in the first three years of ministry I buried 39 people. And a lot of them were people who were indigent or had no church or for some reason the funeral home–either there or over in Portage–would ask me to do these funerals. And so I did a lot of them.
And honestly, my brothers David and Nathan and I agreed we’d rather do ten funerals than one wedding. And pastors usually understand what we mean by that, which is that weddings are so proud–and then you deal with who sits where at the rehearsal–you’ve got divorced people that hate each other’s guts, you’ve got the girlfriend, you’ve got all this stuff. So the combination of pride and the broken homes, it’s like a minefield. But you go into a funeral, and typically funerals are humble.
But then I remember going to a funeral up in Wisconsin Dells, I don’t know why I was there, I don’t know whose funeral it was–but it was in a United Methodist church, and I sat about two-thirds of the way towards the back on the right side. And I sat behind a row of four or six people, three couples who, as we prepared for the service, all they were talking about was gambling and their latest trip to the casino. And so here some friend of theirs was, about to be buried, and I’m sitting behind them, and my hair is standing on end. The godlessness and callousness–I don’t think I’d read Psalm 73 at that point in my life even though I was a pastor, but man, it was Psalm 73. And I realized that America was moving into a different day–that even in the funeral, in the church, right as we’re about to bury someone, there was absolutely no fear of God, none–just callous jocularity about gambling, with couples that were getting close to the end of their own lives.
Then we moved to Bloomington, and the first church we served nobody ever died there–there might have been a couple of funerals, but there weren’t many. It was a middle-aged congregation when I got there. So, very few funerals in Bloomington, and then our church now we might have a death every two years, if that. We go to more funerals than we have. And about five years ago Mary Lee and I bought a piece of property west of town here, and the man that developed it with his wife had cancer, and right after we bought the property he died. And they didn’t have a church, he wasn’t a believer, and they asked me to come and officiate at the funeral. Well I knew what that was, it’s not like a wedding, where the bride’s mother tells you what to do–at a funeral, generally, you tell everybody else what to do–I mean you don’t have to, there’s just a certain pattern, a certain routine, you go through it, and the funeral director tells you which end is the head in the casket. And that’s about all you need to know to do a funeral.Continue reading