Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Some thoughts on Encountering Corpses

We currently have this exhibition on at Sacred Trinity (http://www.hssr.mmu.ac.uk/hip/encountering-corpses/heavenly-bodies-art-exhibition/) and I’m being asked why we have allowed such gruesome pictures in church. Some of the pictures are quite challenging but many of them are very beautiful too. The central elements of the exhibition are 12 large prints of photos by Paul Koudounaris of decorated skeletons and Charnel Houses that he has found in various places around Europe. The skeletons are presumed to be early Christian martyrs whose bones were found and decorated by later Christians. They are beautiful but also profoundly disturbing.

The exhibition is an art exhibition but it also challenges us about our attitude to death and corpses. Some people don’t like us to have gory pictures in church and yet when this exhibition comes down we will be putting up some pictures of torture and execution, as it will be Holy Week and we will put up our Stations of the Cross. In the past churches very often had very gory pictures in them and frequently kept body parts of the saints. Today we tend to get squeamish about such things. Is this because we are more sensitive and respectful of the dead or is it because we want to avoid confronting the reality of death? I suspect that it is at least as much about the latter as the former.

How then should we treat the remains of the deceased? What do (or should) Christians believe about the body and about death?

I believe that the scriptural view is that a person is a whole person – body, mind & soul. The Greeks liked to separate out the idea of body & soul but this isn’t there in Hebrew thought or in the bible. The early Gnostics liked to argue that the physical world was inferior to the spiritual world but the prevailing view in the early church was that God created the physical world and it was good. The incarnation of Christ is seen as valuing our human, bodily existence. The biblical texts do not speak of an immortal soul but of resurrection. If we were honest about the New Testament accounts of life after death and heaven we would have to admit that they aren’t clear on the details. We are promised that we are inheritors of eternal life, which starts now and continues beyond death.  There will be a resurrection and this is clearly seen in fairly physical terms but although it is related it is not dependent on our physical body now. (See 1 Corinthians 15)

So what should be our attitude to death? Death should not be feared but seen as moving into a new phase of our ongoing relationship with God. So death should be welcomed when it comes but until it comes we have work to do here. We should treat our body, whilst alive as a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6). The New Testament had an urgency to it that sometimes makes it difficult to apply in our situation. For example there is no advice about how to bury the dead as it was considered that Christ’s return was imminent and there was no consideration of such long-term issues.

How then should we respond when encountering corpses? We should treat them with respect as the remains of someone who has gone before us, someone who is now, or will be, with God in resurrection form. They are a reminder of our own mortality, a challenge to the prevailing culture of death-denial. Most of all they are a reminder of the limited time we have and the need to use our time well.

whatever happened to this blog?

I've just come on to here to post something and have noticed how rarely I do this now! I suppose that with the immediacy and brevity of Twitter and everything else this blog just goes lower down the list of priorities. So if you want to hear from me more regularly make sure that you are following me on twitter (@salfordrev). Or if you see me, chat to me. I often find time to chat but don't often find time to write much...

Friday, 8 November 2013

Manchester Town Hall & the Christmas lights switch on

 
So last night we went to the Christmas lights switch on. Along with about 25,000 other people. It certainly felt pretty crowded and there were times when people in the crowd were being pretty annoying as they tried to squeeze past us into space that wasn't there. Do I sound like I'm getting old? We went down because we were expecting good fireworks and it was our ZoĆ«'s birthday and she likes the sort of music that was promised. The fireworks really were spectacular and well worth seeing, the music and the chatter were rather less engaging for me. The musical highlights were The Vamps and James Arthur. Surprisingly The Vamps don't look anything like sexually predative women but are a group of very enthusiastic teenage boys. Perhaps it's a good thing that a female noun is used for a group of males as very often male nouns are imposed on females and perhaps they take inspiration from bands such as The New York Dolls (but probably not musically!) The sound quality where I was stood was awful so it's very hard to judge the bands musically. James Arthur seemed to be pleased to be there and everyone was very positive. Several times we were asked if we excited about Christmas, which seemed a little bizarre at the beginning of November. Apparently Manchester is "officially Britain's number 1 Christmas City"! That sounds like a statistic that needs unpicking by Radio 4's "More or Less". Christmas is certainly very important to the City Centre economy and Manchester has done a great job of developing the Christmas markets. I quite like the Christmas markets and shops but I prefer them in December. I do love Christmas. I love the Christmas Story but I also enjoy the secular trimmings around it. Perhaps we Christians should be pleased that the incarnation of God's love in the world creates such joy and celebration amongst the population even if they aren't sure why.