If Benjamin Franklin was correct to say that "nothing is sure but death and taxes," it is also sure that someone will have to pay taxes on the services rendered after your death. These services are called funerals, and no one wants to talk about them.
What is not so sure is the form that the funeral will take. Like weddings, most funerals once followed the general forms that our culture has solidified as traditions. Today, weddings and funerals are changing like crazy, with individuals putting their stamp of individuality on all these ceremonies. For funerals, this can be a very good thing, and a much less expensive thing.
Traditional funerals, complete with caskets, burials, headstones, and etc. can cost in excess of $10,000, and many the cost of many funerals is much higher. These expenses are not criminal; funeral homes have and continue to provide needed services. But the cost of traditional funeral services has opened the door for less expensive options.
Cremation is the disposal of earthly remains to ashes with intense heat. Deeply rooted in Eastern religions ( I have seen dozens of cremations taking place at Hindu temples in Nepal), cremation is just now catching fire (sorry) in the U.S. Reduced expense is driving the trend (less than 4% of American funerals involved cremation in 1960; more than 40% of American funerals now involve cremation). Cremations now cost about $2,500.
Some traditionally-minded Christians reject cremation. In part because Christians have traditionally buried their dead, in part because cremation is associated with Eastern religions, in part because of misunderstanding about the resurrection, and in part just because, Christianity has been slow to warm to (sorry) cremation. But the Bible should not be used as a proof text either for the necessity of burial or in support of cremation: the Bible requires no particular method of tending to remains.
Memorials versus Funerals
One of the happier changes in funeral traditions has been the replacement of funeral with memorial. Funerals are dreary affairs that can, frankly, make things worse. As a preacher I have grieved what our culture has forced upon grieving families through funeral traditions that are, in fact, brutal. Please note, however, that mourning is not a bad thing (see Matt. 5:4).
I have happily embraced the new tradition of memorials. By definition, memorials are far less dreary and sadness-soaked because they focus on the life and not the death of the deceased. Memorials are also more family-focused, with friends and relatives sharing their own happy memories as very personal touches.
Costs rise to traditional-funeral levels if a funeral home is employed to provide support services for a memorial. The Liberty Church of Christ can help its members save money by providing some of these support services. Barb and I have even welcomed remains stored in the building overnight. If you combine a church-building based memorials with a cremation, cost decrease dramatically.
One of the traditions that I have really grieved is the time-tradition that requires a grieving family, often overwhelmed, to immediately plan a funeral or memorial. How have we been able to stand up under exhausting death-bed duty, followed by exhausting event-planning, followed by an exhausting funeral event, all done with smile plastered on our faces, and all done within days? This is not necessary.
Janie and I recently enjoyed (yes, enjoyed) a memorial service for the mother of a dear friend (the lady who died was the first person to figure out that Janie and I would get married). That memorial was the genesis of this article. Why was this memorial special?
- The memorial took place more than two months after the death.
- The closest family had a very private devotional service in connection with the death, and the remains were cremated.
- Later, the memorial was a gathering of RSVP family and friends in the banquet area of a nice restaurant. Most of the two hours were spent in eating and truly enjoying each other. Only about 15 minutes were dedicated to planned memorial thoughts.
The memorial took place on a Saturday afternoon and was planned in far enough in advance so that those who wanted to be a part could adjust their schedules at leisure. This schedule did not tax anyone. This family paid for the entire event; other families ask those who attend to pay for their own meals. In either case, the expense was far less than a traditional