The first is a tendency to have funerals in funeral homes rather than the church. That seems to happen a lot in the area I currently live in. A number of factors could be at play here, including things like cost and whether or not the deceased has a church home. I get that.
But what really troubles me is when families decide to have the service at a funeral home even when their deceased loved one was an active, beloved member of a parish church for 30, 40, or 50 years. That's happened several times now, and it just breaks my heart. It's a decision that divorces the deceased from the place where so many important things happened in her life, including her own wedding and/or that of her children, baptisms of children and grandchildren, confirmations, funerals of other church members, and the weekly round of worship, fellowship, and service.
The physical being of the church building - the nave, the sanctuary, the baptismal font, the altar, the cross, the reredos, the lingering aroma of incense - it all speaks to the ways in which our life stories are interwoven into the story of the faith so succinctly summarized in the catholic creeds. The sterile, secular setting of a funeral home silences that story. And while I've known many wonderful, helpful, pastorally sensitive people who work in the business, a service in a funeral home feels contrived and alienated from the core of the Christian faith.
People sometimes say that the building is not the church; the people are the church. Having lived through the destruction of the church building in which I was confirmed and married, I understand the point being made only too well.
But like bodies, places matter. The Book of Common Prayer acknowledges this when it says: "Baptized Christians are properly buried from the church" (p. 490; emphasis added). And so, to me, the decision to bypass the church for a Christian's funeral feels deeply wrong, almost like taking a mother's baby and giving it away to a stranger.
The second troubling thing I've experienced is funeral services without a body or cremains. That hasn't come up in my ministry as often as a family's decision to use the funeral home rather than the church, but I've seen it enough times to be concerned. I note that the Burial Offices in The Book of Common Prayer assume that a body is present (or, arguably by extension, that cremains are present). Again, bodies matter.
The Prayer Book's assumption that a body is present is particularly true of the Commendation. As the Prayer Book rubric for the Commendation makes explicit: "The Celebrant and other ministers take their places at the body" (p. 499; emphasis added). And yet, I've actually seen an Episcopal priest do a Commendation with no body or cremains in the church. That makes about as much sense as performing a baptism without a baptismal candidate present, or celebrating the Eucharist on a bare altar without the elements of bread and wine.
Again, I don't know for sure if these two things rise to the definition of a "trend." But they both strike me as rather Gnostic departures from the Christian understanding of bodies, death, burial, resurrection, and hope for the life of the world to come.
In a posting at catholicity and covenant entitled "Silencing the story? Hope, funerals, and the Eucharist," BC cites my posting and adds important observations, particularly regarding the importance of the Eucharist for the funeral liturgy. BC writes:
It is in the very physicality of the Eucharist in which we see and taste how "life stories are interwoven in the story of the faith". In the Eucharist the Church's self-understanding as the community centred on and given meaning by the Paschal Mystery is made visible - and is made real. When the funeral liturgy is celebrated within the Eucharist, we are proclaiming and showing that the death of the baptised is to [be] understood not within the sterile story of secularism but within the hope-filled Paschal Mystery of the Crucified and Risen One.
Read it all.