Does the body have to be present for a funeral to be good?

Yesterday,on his blog, Justin asked the question, “Can a funeral be good without a body?”

He and I have been discussing this as he’s been reading through an assignment for one of his graduate classes. The book he’s studying has been very body-focused. At first I rejected this. After all, a person isn’t his or her body. Right?

Sometimes when I’m thinking through a question it seems like my life conspires to answer it. Like this week when seemingly disconnected studies converged.

First, I found myself studying the connection between soul, flesh, and self for the college girls class last Wednesday night. While I expected a simple presentation on controlling the evil desires of the flesh, I instead found a very complicated, seemingly contradictory web of verses. Some pointed to the body as worthless, passing away, or driven by carnal desire. Others pointed to the body as God’s temple. Still others described the body in eternal terms, looking ahead to a bodily resurrection during which our bodies and souls stay connected, the body being glorified.

After that study, I felt much less confident describing the body as “just” a shell. A shell, certainly. But perhaps more than “just” a shell. In some way, we are our bodies.

Second, I started reviewing a book on sexual freedom. So much of this book is based on the premise that the body—and the pleasure it produces in concert with another body—is beautiful and God-given (I’ll be reviewing it on Monday). As I was reading I couldn’t stop thinking about Justin’s body, about how my relationship with him—our oneness—was designed by God to be most completely realized in physical connection.

I also read I Corinthians this weekend where Paul talks about not joining your body to evil. He argues that sexual immorality is a sin against the body. Earlier in the book he says that the body is made for the Lord and “the Lord for the body.” I don’t know exactly what that second part means, but it makes me respect my body a little more.

I guess the last conspirator was a trip to Memphis for Justin. Every time Justin drives somewhere without me I assume he will die (it’s an unavoidable consequence of my brother’s dying in a car accident). So, as usual, I began planning his funeral. This may sound creepy, but it helps me deal with the anxiety. And one day, if Justin does die, I’ll have an awesome funeral planned.

Anyway, Justin has always been of the opinion that I should do whatever I want when he dies—he has absolutely no funerary preferences. Since I’m the one who’ll be sad, I should do what makes me feel good. In the past, I’ve been convinced that a funeral should be a party, a big celebration of the person, complete with their favorite foods, music, and people. Why mourn when the person is, after all, still alive?

With all of this body stuff on my mind, though, I started thinking a little differently. Yes, Justin would still live, but not in the way I’d known and experienced him. When a person dies, a part of that person ends. I thought of my brother’s hands and how I’ll never hold them again. Sure we may “hold hands” in Heaven, but his body will be different and the hands won’t be the same. I thought about Justin’s eyes, about how when he dies those breath-taking eyes will go away. I feel like, in some way, a funeral should enable us to mourn the forever loss of the unglorified body.

I think it will be easy to say goodbye to my own, but it’s hard to say goodbye to a friend’s.

I think a body should be present at a funeral. It’s the reason you’re there after all. It’s what died. It’s what we’ll never see or touch again.