Abraham sent Sarah out in style. He bought the field of Ephron in Machpelah to bury her in.
There is a long tradition among humans of burying their dead with dignity. How unfortunate it is that some persons die in situations where their loved ones cannot find a corpse, or portion of it. That always adds to the grief. What a sad thing it is when the bodies of the dead are placed in mass hidden graves that their families know nothing about. Think of the horror of Auschwitz, or the genocide in Rwanda, or the unnamed dead thrown overboard from slave ships traversing the Atlantic, to name just three of such horrid situations.
People want their dead buried in style, usually. As a pastor, I know that. Some people make a fuss when family members ask the church to conduct funerals for persons who were not active in the church during their lifetime. This is just one of the sore spots of doing ministry to those who grieve. Sometimes I have to do it on my own, that is, without the support of keep players who should be part of the team. They forget their responsibility to the surviving family.
As a Methodist pastor, I am guided by the fact that at a funeral, we do three important things. We thankfully remember the deceased – and it’s a rarity to find someone for whom no thanks can be given, someone who has left no positive mark on anyone else. Secondly, we comfort those who mourn; and even among estranged relatives, and especially among estranged relatives, there is cause for mourning when a family member or friend departs this life. And finally, we give hope to the living. That, actually, is what we traffic in – the hope of being eternally in God’s presence, here in the now and even after the transient passage here on earth is done.
Even in a strange land, Abraham has the privilege of owning a space where he can bury his loved one. But space is running out. Crematoria are helping out in certain cultures; but where I come from it’s not easy to educate persons concerning the value of this. I recall the challenge of getting my folk to agree to construct a building to house persons as so many in Montserrat were left “homeless” by the erupting volcano. The older folk were worried because the land we had to use was designated as cemetery. They asked “Where are you going to bury me when I die?
What about me? What should be done with my body when I die? My answer- I’ll be dead so I hope that you don’t spend too much time and money, depriving those who live after me of any of their needs just to make sure that I great a costly send-off. Just let me die with dignity, if you have any say in this, and let me go with grace to my God of all grace.
Remind me, Lord, that time is fleeting, that life on earth is short.
Arm me with jealous care as in your sight to live
and O your servant, Lord, prepare a strict account to give.
Charles Wesley 1798-88