Catching up on the news, I was moved by the account of Linda Norgrove’s burial on Lewis. The aid worker who as killed tragically during her rescue in Afghanistan had a humanist ceremony followed by the carrying of her coffin part of the way to an island cemetery.
There were heartfelt and beautiful sentiments expressed – some in the language of prayer: ‘I pray that we can find some kind of way through to you, Linda, to communicate our love, to help you through; help you in the clear white light you now find yourself within’. Even an appropriate bit from Bertrand Russell: ‘Those who have lived nobly need not fear they have lived in vain. Something radiates from their lives, something light that shows the way to their friends …’
I have sometimes felt at humanist funerals that whilst the words are good, there is something static about it all. You can mourn, you can celebrate, but you go no further. I wonder whether the ‘Hebridean tradition’ of family and friends carrying the coffin at least part of the way to burial (also known in Stirling, but rapidly fading) gave the funeral a kind of spiritual dynamic.
I think we also need to safeguard Christian funerals from becoming simply a static celebration of a person. Apparently, some families ask for a private interment or cremation to be followed by the funeral these days. But we are celebrating not just a person’s life but their movement into a new dimension, a greater light, their fulfilment in God. Getting things in the right order and expressing spiritual movement in a visible way – from home to church to cemetery – is a vital, sacramental expression of our faith.