Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Corporal Works of Mercy (Part 7)

7. Bury the Dead
"... and if I saw any of my nation dead, or cast around the walls of Nineveh, I buried him." (Tobit 1:17)
The last of the corporal works of mercy is, on some level, the most logical of them. There is little direct tangible benefit towards visiting a prisoner or welcoming a stranger. But dead bodies smell bad after a couple days, rotting and spreading disease. It only makes sense to get corpses into the ground and out of the way as soon as possible.
But this corporal work of mercy is not only logical; it is merciful as well. For we could just dump bodies in the ground, and solve our problem of disease control with far less pomp and ceremony.  
But burying the dead is an act of honor, symbolizing the return of a Christian's temple of the Holy Spirit to God. Through Christian burial, we celebrate the life of an individual and his (presumed) return to God.
This work of mercy also reveals to us our dependence on others. For we are merely “dust, and to dust we shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) We are granted the opportunity to become participants in this process through our fulfillment of this corporal work of mercy.
Simply picking up a shovel is of course not the only method of fulfilling this corporal work of mercy. By graciously participating in funerals and honoring the memory of good Christians, we can fulfill this work of mercy. And when our time to go to God comes, other Christians will do the same for us.  

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