How Do We Handle Bodies At Funerals?

Text: Mark 16:1-8

In the name of Jesus. Amen.  

Several years ago, I attended a funeral service for a loved one. The church was full of family and friends from the community. As the service started, the pastor ushered the family into the sanctuary while everyone sang the hymn “Amazing Grace.” The casket was wheeled into the sanctuary and placed at the bottom of the steps in front of the baptismal font. After the last verse of the opening hymn, the pastor announced the invocation and then greeted the sanctuary.  The pastor proceeded to tell us that – let’s just call her Susie – the pastor proceeded to tell us that Susie was gone but would always be remembered in our hearts. 

As the service continued, scriptures were read, and family members came forward to give eulogies.  The one daughter and two grandchildren talked about the love of Susie and how they were comforted by Susie being in heaven.  “Grandma is now looking down upon us from Heaven,” the one granddaughter said.  The pastor then gave a 13-minute sermon about Susie, focusing on how Susie was in heaven and she had no more pain or sorrow.  The pastor emphasized the blessings of heaven and, again, how great it was that Susie was in heaven.  

Following the sermon, there was a song about heaven.  The person singing the song concluded by saying, 

“We will miss you, Susie; you will always be in our hearts,” she said.  

As the service ended, I realized something quite disturbing: nobody was paying any attention to the casket. The casket was definitely at the center of the sanctuary; however, it seemed as if everyone was trying to avoid looking at it, and it sure seemed as if nobody talked about it.  The dead body of Susie was just there – not really referenced, looked at, or spoken about.  In fact, I don’t think that people knew what to do about the dead body of Susie.  The pastor, as well, certainly seemed to avoid any mention of the dead body of Susie.  Instead, she just kept repeating over and over that Susie was in heaven as if that was all that there was to say about a dead loved one. 

So, what do we make of this?  Tragically, what happened in that church that day was that the pastor and family did not know what to do with the body of Susie.  I hate to say it but the body of Susie was treated like a useless shell – something that was in the service out of a sense of obligation.  The body of Susie was nothing more than an inconvenient shell that would soon be discarded into a grave at the cemetery. 

Now, were they wrong to say that Susie was in heaven? No, they were not. When we die, our soul goes to heaven — paradise with Jesus. This is good — very good — but keep in mind that it gets better, much better.  

You see that Easter Morning long ago when the women came to the tomb of Jesus, the angel said to them, 

“Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified . . . He is not here.”   

Now, it is true that Jesus was not there in the grave.  In fact, right after the death of Jesus, Jesus’ spirit went to paradise.  Jesus went away.  But notice what the angel said specifically to the women – three little words, 

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; he is not here.” 


“He has risen.”

In other words, the angel did not tell the woman that Jesus’ soul was still in paradise but instead, the angel said that Jesus was not in the grave because He was risen bodily from the dead.  

Dear friends, our culture is plagued by a nasty heresy called Gnosticism.  Yes, Gnosticism.  It teaches that the material body really doesn’t matter.  For the Gnostic, the soul is what really counts.  The body is nothing more than a useless shell that can be disregarded.  And so, in many churches in America, as well as many people’s conversations surrounding death, individuals are so influenced by Gnosticism that they will speak positively about a loved one’s soul being in heaven but then will practically ignore the dead body in the casket.  Why?  Well, for a Gnostic, the body does not matter; bodies decay, they are dirty, and full of bacteria.  It is a useless shell that once held the soul of a loved one.  

But if this is the case – if the bodies do not matter – then the woman that day would’ve come to the tomb that day, and the angel would’ve said, 

“Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified . . . He is not here.”   

But instead, the angel said to the women, 

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; he is not here.” 

Baptized Saints, what is in the casket is not just the shell of your loved one.  Instead, what is in that casket is the body of your loved one who was fearfully and wonderfully made when our Father weaved her together in her mother’s womb.  What is in the casket is a body that Jesus baptized into His own body to make the baptized Christian a part of Christ.  What is in the casket is the body that ate the saving body of Jesus and drank Jesus’ forgiving blood in the Supper.  What is in the casket is the body that will burst forth from the grave as the last trumpet will sound on the very last day.[1]   

Baptized Saints, your bodies are God’s creation.  They are an essential part of your identity as a human being.  Your body is not a shell; it is God’s gift to you.  And one day – at the great last day – you will get your body back – alive, restored, perfected… just like the body of Jesus.  

If bodies do not matter to God, then Christ’s body would still be dead and rotting in a grave.  But bodies do matter because God is not a Gnostic, and neither are you!  You are a Christian, which means that we rejoice when loved ones die and go to be with Jesus in paradise.  But then, we hold fast that the body in the casket will rise again on the last day.  This is most certainly true.  The reason being, just as Christ was raised from the grave, we too, will rise again, for we too will be just like the risen Christ – raised, imperishable, and alive with a body.  

And so, the reason why we have deep reverence for the dead bodies of our loved ones is because the bodies of our loved ones will rise again.  We don’t see dead bodies as shells; we don’t toss them in the ditch as ancient barbarians used to do; and we don’t ignore the casket as so many misinformed pastors and churches often do today.  Instead, bodies matter to us because they matter to God.  They matter because they will be raised again.  We know this to be true because the grave was empty, and the body of Christ was risen.  

Baptized Saints, death does not have the final word.  Death is but a short sleep for those who are in Christ because, after all, when one falls asleep, they awake, which is exactly what happened to Jesus and what will happen to your loved ones, and will happen to you.  You will be resurrected on the last day, just like Jesus.  Why?  Because your body matters to God, you are not a Gnostic but a Christian. 

Alleluia, alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  Amen. 

[1] Chad Bird, (Please Don't Say These 6 Things at My Funeral)