An Islamic Funeral and the Church

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The Bible has many images to describe what the Church is and what we the Church should be for one another. The Church is called the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, a temple, a family, a kingdom of Priests, etc. But just this week I saw another, beautiful analogy of what the Church is and what our relationship to each other should be.

I saw it at an Islamic Yawo funeral. It was beautiful and it gave me shivers up my spine as it hit me, “this is what the Church should be, a funeral procession.”

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The body begins it’s journey at the family home. The deceased is wrapped in pure white cloth, placed on a wooden stretcher and covered with a black cloth embroided with golden arabic verses from the Qur’an. It sits in the midst of the men from the area while the women sit off in the distance. The Qur’an is sung through, prayers are said, and then its time for the body to make its way to the grave yard. At this point all the men form a passage through which the body will pass, they do this by making two long lines. Each line of men facing in towards the other. This passage is what the body is carried down all the way to the burial plot about 1.5km away, in this case. Every man standing in line supports the wooden stretcher’s weight as it comes past and is helped forward. Once it goes past, you walk quickly to the front of the line and repeat the process again. The deceased is carried by every male in the village multiple times on it’s way to the graveyard. This parallel line of men continues the whole way; down little paths winding in between houses, out on the main highway (right in the middle of it actually, stopping the traffic), through the centre of the town, through maize fields until it reaches it’s final resting place.

It was beautiful, no instructions were given, everyone knew what to do, the deceased made it to their final resting place 6ft under without a hitch. And it was this procession that moved me, that spoke to me in a real and tangible way about our relationship to each other.

Now bear with me here. The men in the line represented the Church, in this case everyone, men and women, slave, free, etc, etc. But the deceased also represented everyone, but more on that in a minute. Without the men continuously forming and reforming that line the body would stop, in fact it would fall to the floor, an incredible shameful thing in this society. The deceased needed all the men. All the men needed to wilfully offer themselves as participants in this final act of care for the deceased. Men had to stop what they were doing, put their priorities on hold for the sake of their brother; their harvesting had to wait, their shop had to close, their work had to cease. Because of their bond it was a non negotiable, they were there to help, it’s how it works.

The interesting thing as well is the trust the deceased puts in their kinsfolk. In Yawo society a proper burial is of upmost importance. It is the final opportunity to make right with God. Funerals are a very redemptive act here, the prayers said, the way the burial happens all are appeals for God to show the deceased mercy. It’s a big deal and it needs to be done properly. In Australia if you want a job done properly you do it yourself, in fact I reckon that you could, if you were an organised person, plan and execute your own funeral; make the bookings, plan the service, organise the plot, choose the coffin, etc,etc. In fact planing your own funeral is probably to be applauded. Isn’t not wanting to be a burden one of the selling points used by those pesky funeral insurance companies to suck you in?

Anyway back to my point, the Yawo don’t have the luxury of using funeral companies. The deceased doesn’t have a hearse to take them to the grave the have a community, the family doesn’t have catering company to provide nibbles for the guests, they have their neighbours. Funerals are a big trust exercise in your family/community/kinship group. As the deceased you need to trust your family to do a proper job of things. Being dead is and should be a passive act, a vulnerable act.

As Christians and as the Church we are called to carry each burdens thus fulfilling the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). We are to be each others coffin bearers, so to speak. However we also need to be humble enough, vulnerable enough, trusting enough to share our burdens with our brothers and sisters. To me this is Church.

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