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Asking the clergy about burial rituals

It is easy when faced with the death of a loved one to be consumed by the mourning process. Our clergy discuss the rituals of death and how one can gain greater understanding and meaning from the process.

Rabbi Sam Krasner, Suburban Park Jewish Center, East Meadow:

In general, burial rituals are important in every faith. Above all, Judaism teaches respect for the deceased. After a person dies, the soul is aware of what happens to the body and what is going on with those left behind. He or she is aware of what is being done to his or her body in preparation for burial.

The burial rites are considered the ultimate kindness because this person cannot possibly repay the kindness done in preparing the body for burial. Therefore, the gift you are giving is with no thought of repayment. When someone is alive, even if you don't expect repayment for a kindness, the person does have an opportunity to repay. The deceased does not.

The body is prepared by a Chevra Kadisha, a sacred burial society, not by the funeral home. Judaism teaches that the burial should be done quickly, within 24 hours when possible. It also teaches that the body is not put on display -- meaning no open casket funeral. We remember the person as he or she was in life.

Of course, there is a difference between burial rites and customs. For example, burying within a certain time and not embalming the body are laws. Placing a stone on the grave when you visit is a custom. But, both offer comfort to the grieving.

Dr. I.J. Singh, a Sikh religious scholar, North Bellmore:

It would be appropriate to say that the actual burial rituals are not important to Sikhs. Sikhs do not worry or mandate how to get rid of the body when a person is dead. Many Sikhs cremate because we find that burial is an unnecessary use of space. What is left after the cremation, many discard in flowing water. There are also those who leave the body in the open upon a tower so the birds can get at it.

All of this is because the physical body is just a case for the soul. When we die, we become a part of the greater biological life cycle. The divine part within you, which we know as the soul, is the part that we need to nurture. Sikhs largely don't believe in reincarnation. The soul goes on because it is immortal.

No one knows what we were before we were born. Therefore, why worry about what you will be after you die. For us, the important thing is to live such a life that you leave the world a better place when you die.

Pastor John Flack, Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church of Floral Park:

The first thing funeral and burial rituals are important for is for those left behind to remember the promises God made to the person who has died. The first is the promise of resurrection. Through our baptism we are made one with Christ's own Resurrection (1 Corinthians 13: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.")

Death is both an ending and a beginning. Death is a mark of the sinfulness of our world. In a perfect world, there would be no death. It is OK to cry for that. And, we do feel connected to the people we bury. On the other hand, our grief shouldn't prevent us from knowing that death will be overcome by God.

Burial rituals are for the living and for the mourning process. The real religious purpose of death ritual -- I don't want to just say burial because there are many ways of disposing of the body -- is turning our attention to God. That doesn't happen with just one sermon. The real work happens throughout one's faith life and through the entire faith community.


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