A book review that appeared in last weeks Church Times
Death: Our Future
Christian theology and funeral practice
Edited by: Peter C. Jupp
November 2008; Epworth Press; Paperback; 300pages; £25.00;
In an age dominated by consumerism, the physical and the ideals of strength and youth, it takes courage and imagination to embrace our limitations and human frailty. On our life course all of us have to find our way through to live with and manage hope and suffering, well being and dying. These things belong together and make life paradoxical, challenging, painful and wonderful.
If you wanted a guide to stimulate and challenge then this collection of essays is an excellent resource and guide. The focus is the funeral but the essays ask us to think differently about how we die, how we mark death, how we grieve and how we support mourners. In a carefully edited collection of twenty three essays we are offered a wealth of information, wisdom and insight.
Many modern studies of death fail to address the contemporary context of funerals and ignore the scholarly and professional studies which would enhance their practical value. These essays also give voice to the experience of people who are in daily contact with the realities of death.
Within the Christian Churches and beyond, public attitudes to death and to funeral practice have changed significantly; academic studies on human mortality and the disposal of the dead have mushroomed; and several ethical issues concerning human mortality have both dominated headlines and engaged Government and legal attention. Given this context, this is a book for its time – it assesses developments over the last ten years and presents them in a way that will engage, inform and equip Christians for facing dying, death, bereavement, funerals and memorialisation.
Sections in the book include: the context of funeral ministry today, modern dying and modern bereavement, the theology of death, modern practices of cremation and burial, liturgical developments and regional perspectives on funeral practice.
It remains to be seen whether the Christian Churches will continue to have such a hold over the conducting of funerals as the effects of decline and secularisation impinge. There are already signs of a change in this area, not least from some clergy who do not see this ministry as a ‘mission’ priority. There are also some important questions about how far the language of theology connects with the experience of those who grieve. We underestimate the gaps and the oddly privatised nature of our grammar. I hope that this book will be widely read and used as a springboard for further prayer and action. It is a model of excellence in writing.