When I officiate at a Christian burial I have the casket lowered into the earth while reciting the Apostles’ Creed, the ancient Roman baptismal symbol, since burial is also a lowering in anticipation of the raising of the resurrection.  The Creed has the perfect end for the interment of the faithful: “I believe . . . in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.”  This is also one of the reasons I do not believe in cremation, and will not take a funeral service where the body of a professing Christian has been intentionally burned.  The symbolism in one instance is deliverance from death to life, the other is destruction by flame, to which I will not bear witness on behalf of a believer.  Yes, by God, the symbolism means something: beliefs are formed by symbols.  We need to make them right.

I can already hear the chorus of protests to this, and think I have heard them all.  To this I respond: burial is the normal and acceptable Christian symbol.  There are instances in which it is not possible, but not nearly as many as people wish to protest.  It is not without reason that burial of the dead is commended in the church as a “corporal work of mercy.”  Christian pastors should stop passively doing whatever is demanded by relatives of their parishioners (just as they ought to stop doing whatever is demanded by those who come to them to be married), teach from their pulpits the symbolism behind the tradition, and be sure their church budgets provide for the burial of their poor. Those who have no scruples against cremation should apply to a minister who also lacks them.  Do you wish to officiate anyway to “give a Christian witness” when you have already given a pagan witness by agreeing to clericalize over the pot?

The pastor must resolve before God to say and do gently but insistently what is right whoever might object–that is, he must risk his job, trusting that God will provide.  Many churches are deep in all kinds of error because pastoral negligence or cowardice has insured that they are not properly taught.  Anyone who comes along these days and says to them, for example, “For the sake of the gospel, we should bury and not cremate,” will be stepping on a great many toes–including those of bishops who allow cremation on nearly any grounds.