Is it right for Christians to be cremated after they die?
We must first remember that what is done with the bodies of Christians doesn’t decide their everlasting destiny. Rather, it is the power and faithfulness of God through the cross and resurrection of Christ. But our choices about what to do with our bodies can shape the witness we offer to the gospel.
The widespread acceptance of cremation among Christians is a rather new development. We might glimpse a rationale for it in the well-known line from the Book of Common Prayer (with biblical roots—see Gen. 3:19, Gen. 18:27, and Eccles. 3:20): “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
Historically, however, Christians practiced the burial of the body accompanied by liturgical words and actions that link death to Christian hope and assurance. There is concern that cremation loses sight of important Christian meaning. Of course, even with cremation, a memorial service offers an opportunity to place the pain of death into Christian context. As with so much in the Christian life, much depends upon our reasoning—and also upon the witness we make through our choices.
If a Christian chooses cremation based on the view that, because we’re going to heaven, the body doesn’t matter, then we’re on dangerous ground. The body does matter, as seen in the biblical and creedal declaration of the “resurrection of the body.” Burial of the deceased body can be a powerful way of proclaiming our resurrection hope. But it is also possible to surround cremation with that same public affirmation of the resurrection.
If a Christian chooses cremation for principled, practical reasons—perhaps ecological or even financial factors—we’re on more solid ground. In contrast to earlier Christian eras, we’re more aware today of the importance of careful land use to sustain more than 7 billion people. Similarly, costs involved in bodily burial can be a huge burden for some families.
For the Christian, however, principles of stewardship don’t stand alone. Whatever decisions we choose in the face of death need to announce that Christian hope for everlasting life hangs on the promise of the resurrection of the body.