This was an insistently affectionate cat that thought he was a dog. He would follow you around or wake you up about five in the morning wanting to be petted.
Technically the cat belonged to our oldest son, Christian, who disputes his brother Michael’s claim that the cat was only 21. But as every parent knows, no pet ever really belongs to the kids. Whatever they learned about loyalty and responsibility by owning an animal they take with them when they leave home and get married, but not the animal itself.
Over 30 years of parenting I’ve buried lots of animals, but Katie and I decided to cremate the cat. We’ve had pets dug up by various creatures around the farm, and the burial sites are all forgotten and unvisited.
As it turns out, burning a cat is not easier than burying it. I built a funeral byre of sorts, but then I stood by, finding more wood, trying to make sure there was nothing left for the critters to drag away. (I was respectful too, even sad. This was an extraordinary cat.)
But now I can see why the depictions of human cremation involve really big piles of wood. Or a really hot furnace. It takes temperatures approach 2000 °F to get this done, and even then there are bone fragments and such that have to be ground into a powder for the urn.
Katie and I actually have different views on this subject, and I’m going to try not to give my own away. Although almost a quarter of all U.S. citizens are now cremated, for many Christians it is still an awkward subject.
Traditionally the church has opposed it, associating it with pagan practice. The first cremation in the US, for example, used readings from Darwin and Budda for the memorial service.
The list of biblical burials is pretty long: Abraham, Sarah, Rachel, Issac, Joseph, Joshua, Eleazar, Samuel, David, John the Baptist, Ananias and Sapphira, Stephen. You get the idea. And did I mention Jesus? Burial was how God himself disposed of Moses.
The early church felt so strongly about this that they would steal the bodies of martyrs for a proper burial. And from the ancient Hebrews through the history of the church burning people and/or bodies was reserved for witches, prostitutes, heretics and adulterers.
In Amos 2:1: God proclaimed a death curse on Moab because he had reduced the bones of the king of Edom to lime through burning, and burning bodies instead of burying them is clearly seen as something for the bad guys, even at the end of time.
Some say this is because Judeo-Christian burial is rooted in a higher view of the body, as made in the image of God.
Or maybe not. Is the image of God physical in any sense at all, or is it about our nature and our capacity, to love and to create?
Paul describes the resurrection of the dead to a spiritual body in 1 Corinthians 15. After all, flesh and blood can not inherit the kingdom of God (vs. 50). In the end he would prefer to be away from the body and with the Lord.
And as far as the resurrection is concerned, it certainly does not require human dust to make us a new body. Doesn’t the bible say ashes to ashes and dust to dust? Well, actually no. That’s from the Book of Common Prayer.
I’m still sure the resurrection doesn’t depend on the state or nature of human remains, however. Think of all the people who have been buried or lost at sea, eaten by the fish. I could be vaporized and still be resurrected. God’s power is not the issue here.
Unfortunately the answer to this question is not that easy and Katie and I will have to argue about it some more.
Paul doesn’t actually say the body is unimportant, for example. In fact, he says “this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” And a case could be made for burial as a clearer picture of the death, burial and resurrection at the heart of the gospel itself.
However, although the picture of the gospel may be clearer that way, any New Testament references are descriptive, not prescriptive. There is nothing to suggest that saving money or even land through cremation is unChristian in any real theological sense.
It would just be a lot less complicated if we were cats.