Natural Burial: The Final Journey

Natural Burial: The Final Journey is a free, downloadable six-unit Bible study, written by Kent Burreson and Beth Hoeltke, focusing on the worth that God places on the human body not only in life, but equally in death. God honors the body and the best way for Christians to honor their body is to treat their body as a gift of their Creator, which God will raise and restore in holiness on the last day. Through this study participants will consider practices which best reflect the honor we should give to our bodies as we journey into death. These natural burial practices contrast significantly with many current burial practices. The study reviews these current practices and offers new insights toward more natural and caring practices which truly honor the body. The study pays special attention to how we, as Christians, should journey with the baptized body once death has occurred; how we should care for the body of our dead; how we should rehearse the story of the person’s bodily life; how we should best bury our dead; and finally how we find hope in the resurrection of our bodies.

Throughout the study participants will complete a separate burial planning guide that makes explicit their own desires in relation to the practices discussed. The study is self-contained, so the materials provided enable a pastor, church worker, or a lay person to lead it. Pastors and other church workers could expand the amount of time spent in reflection on and discussion of the study’s content. Our hope is that at the end participants will find the practices of natural burial to be compelling because they faithfully witness to the God who creates and redeems our bodies.

To view and download the PDFs of this Bible study, click on the titles below:

Natural Burial: The Final Journey

Your Final Journey: A Burial Planning Guide

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7 Comments

  1. Rev. Michael L Mueller December 9, 2019
    Reply

    So, a couple of questions:
    1) Isn’t decomposition the same chemical process as combustion? Both seem to be oxidation, just one is more quick.
    2) Isn’t this another case of adiaphora disguised as a Biblical teaching? Did we not learn anything from when LCMS used to officially teach that having insurance was not Scriptural since it showed a lack in trust for God to take care of us?
    3) When do we consider the living in all of this? Costs to bury are significant.

    • Dr. Kent Burreson December 13, 2019

      Dear Pastor Mueller: please forgive my delay in responding. Thank you so much for your questions. We appreciate your interest in the topic of natural burial. With regard to your first question, I presume that you are comparing the processes of decomposition in natural burial with the process of decomposition in cremation? While oxidation is certainly going on in both, cremation applies high temperature burning with the use of gas or chemicals to decompose the body quickly and turn it to ash (with the exception of the bones). Natural burial only uses the resources of nature, oxygen, chemicals in the soil, and creatures that inhabit the soil, to decompose the body and turn it to dust (something of the earth. Ashes are similar to but different than dust.). While cremation emits significant amounts of CO2 and other chemicals into the atmosphere, natural burial emits very little. So, the processes and their end results are significantly different.
      With regard to your second question, certainly the modes and processes of burial are an adiaphora. There is nothing that biblically requires us to bury in this way. We aren’t trying to disguise adiaphora as doctrine. Yet, I would contend that not all adipahora are created equal. Within particular contexts and settings, some adiaphora are more important than others and there are poor, good, and best ways to practice any given adiaphpra. We do have to attend to the disposition of our bodies at death. That is both naturally and biblically required. It is not an adiaphora. However, we would contend that there are poor ways of attending to the body’s disposition and best ways in our current context. We contend that natural burial is the best way for making the Christian confession of faith in our current cultural context.
      With regard to your third question, natural burial is the cheapest way to bury. The average cost of our current burial practices is around $12,000.00 per burial. Cremation, depending upon how it is done usually costs around $7,000. Depending upon how minimalist one goes, natural burial can cost between $500 and $5000. On average, natural burial would cost $3500. So it is clearly the most inexpensive option for burial. Christian families could save a significant amount of money by opting for natural burial practices.
      Thnk you for submitting these questions and we welcome your follow-up or further questions.

  2. Nathan Wendorf January 20, 2020
    Reply

    Thankful for this resource! We are in the middle of using Death, Resurrection, Heaven and the New Creation in a Bible Study and will be following with this. People have been very blessed by the book and are inviting more people each week to the study. So thank you for providing the follow up on such a timely topic that people are very interested in!

    • Kent Burreson April 6, 2020

      Thanks, Nathan. Forgive our delay in responding. Glad you are finding the resource so helpful. We’d appreciate any feedback you have on the resources. May the Lord sustain you and your congregation during this pandemic.

  3. Rev. James Fleming, Emeritus April 2, 2020
    Reply

    I haven’t read your study, but I already have a question about natural burial. I know that other religions always used natural burial so they quickly bury those who have died.

    Do you believe that natural burial will be available for the hundreds of people dying daily from the current COVID-19 pandemic since it appear to in some instances taking weeks to bury those who die from this virus?

  4. Kent Burreson April 6, 2020
    Reply

    Thank you so much for your question, Rev. Fleming. Forgive me it took a few days to respond. Obviously there is much that is not known about Covid-19. I know that in New York and New Jersey, due to the unfortunate circumstance of having so many bodies to attend to, most of the deceased have been cremated. This also connects to the transmission of the disease. Since it is transmitted via bodily fluids, there would be concerns about contact with the body of the dead if the virus can survive in those fluids beyond death. I don’t know whether that has been determined at this point, but see below as the CDC initially seems to believe that it the virus is not able to remain alive after the host is dead. But given this unknown, out of caution, this is one of the reasons they are not embalming bodies in hot spots for the virus, like New York. Normally this would not be a problem with natural burial since embalming does not take place and bodily fluids from the deceased are not a source of disease transmission. But we don’t know with Covid-19.

    Another challenge relative to natural burial in a pandemic is the availability of natural burial spaces. While they have been growing in number throughout the states, there are still states that may only have 2-3 natural burial spaces in the entire state. Given that low availability in some states and the necessity of having to transport bodies to those spaces, my guess is that that would naturally lead to a curtailment in natural burial if a body would have to be transported a long distance to the natural burial site. If someone desired natural burial and lived close to a natural burial site I would see no reason why they could not be buried naturally, as long as the responsible authorities were still allowing it.

    I did go to the Green Burial Council website (www.greenburialcouncil.org) where they cite the CDC:
    “The CDC states that decedents with COVID-19 may be buried or cremated according to the family’s preference.” ​”There is currently no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of COVID-19.” The Green Burial Council has more very helpful information about burial in the midst of this pandemic: https://www.greenburialcouncil.org/green_burial_and_covid-19.html.

    Let me know if you have any follow-up questions. I hope this was helpful.

  5. Lamide Osinkolu | With Prayers 28 days ago
    Reply

    Interesting conversation. Thanks for the resource!

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