Committed to the Dirt, Not the Flowers

The funeral is what takes place at the grave, tomb, or fire.

Thomas Lynch is a poet, author, and undertaker.  He was the inspiration for the television series “Six Feet Under”.  His books, poetry, and even Christmas cards have a transformed the way Jason, Taylor, and myself think about our role as pastors when dealing with the death and dying we experience in our communities.

In this episode of Crackers & Grape Juice the crew tackled the topic of death & dying.

Tom argues there is nothing different between the brick and mortar of a funeral home and the church. Finding meaning in the midst of grief, according to Taylor, is experienced more at the graveside than in a well-play organ prelude or church service liturgy. Sacred space is sacred space and it does not matter if that is a 100+ year old funeral home or a newly built church sanctuary.

According to America’s Undertaker, getting the dead where they need to go is the business of the funeral.  He notes there is a distinction between memorial (with faith claims) and bringing someone to their final resting place.  Lynch argues that funerals are getting the dead to where they need to go, and often times memorials are used in place of a funeral which removes the family/community from the committal process.

The PBS special, The Undertaking, rattled me when I first watched it.  Tom is a strong advocate for family participation when dealing with the death of a loved one.  He believes families and faith communities have been removed from the process of committing loved ones to the ground. It seems that we have sanitized the death and grieving process in our churches.

Death, funerals, and memorial services are things I still struggle with. I know, believe, and place all of my hope in the grace offered to us in the promise of resurrection.  Yet, when someone passes, whether tragically in an accident or after battling a long illness, I still do not feel comfortable “dealing” with death. I do not know if we should ever feel comfortable around death, after all Jesus weeps when confronted by death.  Tom’s words of encouragement give me hope that we can grieve as a community and that my sadness is not seen as weakness or a lack of faith. If a seasoned undertaker like Tom still weeps when standing at the back of a church door, then why can’t I?


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