Sometimes back a journalist friend Mr. Bakul Tayl or phoned me and asked: “Fr. Varghese, what do you Christians belief about death? Can you enlighten me about it? Can you also tell me about the funeral rites of the Christians?”
The Christians hold very clear ideas about death and the life after death. At the foundation of the Christians belief about death there is the clear message of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus’ friend and brother of Martha and Mary, Lazarus died Jesus and his disciples went to his house. The Gospel of John in the Bible has given a very clear picture of the event.
“Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died! But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask him for.’
“‘Your brother will rise to life,” Jesus told her.
“‘I know,’ she replied, ‘that he will rise to life on the last day.’
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even
though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”(John 11, 21-26).
As Jesus has said it, the Christians truly believe in the life after death. The prayers and the whole burial service give a clear picture of the Christians’ belief in the life after death.
Specific biblical passages are chosen and read during the prayers at the funeral rite. For instance, a passage from Isaiah says: “The Sovereign Lord will destroy death for ever! He will wipe away the tears from everyone’s eyes and take away the disgrace his people have suffered throughout the world. The Lord himself has spoken!” (Isaiah 25, 8).
In his first letter to the Corinthians St. Paul clearly says that everyone will die and everyone will be raised to new life. “But the truth is that Christ has been raised from death, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised. For just as death came by means of a man, in the same way the rising from death comes by means
of a man. For just as all people die because of their union with Adam, in the same way all will be raised to life because of their union with Christ” (1 Cor. 15, 20-22).
In the same letter St .Paul adds, “Listen to this secret truth: we shall not all die, but when the last trumpet sounds, we shall all be changed in an instant, as quickly as the blinking of an eye. For when the trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised, never to die again and we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15, 51-52).
The Christian teaching and beliefs about death are clearly indicated in the funeral rites and prayers for the departed men and women. Christians believe that death is the consequence of sin. So the funeral prayer says:
“Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who rose from the dead, our hope of resurrection dawned. The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality.
“Lord, for your faithful people life is changed not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.” The Christians make special prayers at home and in the Church for the forgiveness of the sins of the dead person; because they strongly believe in the resurrection and new life of the deceased person beyond death. The friends and well wishers visit the house of the diseased person and pay tribute to him/her by offering special prayers. The hope of life beyond death gives the bereaved family and people the strength and courage to bear up their pain of the loss.
Blessing the body of the deceased person the priest says a beautiful prayer:
“God of all consolation, in your unending love and mercy for us you turn the darkness of death in the dawn of new life. Show compassion to your people in their sorrow. Be our refuge and our strength to lift us from the darkness of this grief to the peace and light of your presence. Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, by dying for us, conquered death and by rising again, restored life. May we then go forward eagerly to meet him, and after our life on earth be reunited with our brothers and sisters where every tear will be wiped away.” The prayers at the grave too express the people’s faith in the eternal life and the hope of meeting the resurrected dear ones and the glorious Jesus, the first One to rise from the death:
“Lord Jesus Christ, by the three days you lay in the tomb you made holy the graves of all who believe in you; and even though their bodies lie in the earth they trust that they, like you, will rise again.
Give our brother/sister peaceful rest in this grave, until that day when you, the resurrection and the life,