Home Visitation and Viewing
Editor’s note: this is the latest in a series of posts about natural burial co-written by Kent Burreson and Beth Hoeltke. Their free, downloadable Bible study “Natural Burial: The Final Journey” (which also includes a burial planning guide) is available here: https://concordiatheology.org/2019/12/natural-burial-the-final-journey/.
In order to best understand current practices, we need to look back to our past. What today we call the “living room” was not very long ago called the “parlor.” During the 19th century many major family events took place in the parlor. It was the center of activity in the house. Families used it as the birthing room, the meeting room, and the courting room. And since all of life centered in that room, our forebears also referred to it as the “death room” since it was the place where our dying resided through their last earthly days and where they lay in rest after they had died. In 1910, in reaction to the culture’s desire to distance ourselves from death, the Ladies Home Journal suggested that the room be renamed the “living room,” our current terminology.
The parlor, or death room, is where families laid out their loved ones and sat with them for up to three days while the home visitation and viewing of the dead took place. Friends, neighbors, and loved ones spent time with the grieving family and, perhaps shockingly for us, with the one who had died.
Today, it has become very unusual for a visitation to take place in the home. And most of us would not refer to the living room as the “death room.” Yet, funeral homes have recreated the home parlor or “death room” in the funeral parlor. Not surprisingly, it looks very much like a living room. This is where families place their dead. The visitation provides people a sense of closure, the opportunity to say goodbye, and to support their fellow baptized as they mourn.
Yet, while the visitation provides an opportunity to journey with others in their grief, the best way to journey with them in mourning is to join with them and the entire body of Christ at the funeral rites for the dead. There the Body of Christ will rehearse the story of the dead, a story that culminates in the proclamation of eternal life and the resurrection of the body when the living Lord, Jesus Christ, returns. There is where Christ’s final victory over death is celebrated. So let us view, care for, and stand alongside the bodies of our dead whom God has brought into life in Christ and who will rise with us on the day of resurrection.
In our next post, we will begin the discussion of burial practices.