Most Christians should be familiar with the two great commandments that contain the whole law of God.
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
So, how does a Christian love God and neighbor? The traditional first answer learned by young children was “To love God, our neighbor, and ourselves we must keep the commandments of god and of the church, and perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.” Or as I like to summarize, “The only thing that counts is faith working through love” Galatians 5:6.
Perhaps the lease thourht about work of mercy is to “Bury the Dead.” Why is such an act worthy of distinction? The Book of Tobit (declared to be scripture in the Councils of Rome (382 AD), Hippo (393 AD), and the first and second Councils of Carthage (397) and (419 AD)) describes a man, Tobit, persecuted for doing the will of God – burying the dead.
In the days of Shalmaneser I had performed many charitable deeds for my kindred, members of my people.
I would give my bread to the hungry and clothing to the naked. If I saw one of my people who had died and been thrown behind the wall of Nineveh, I used to bury him.
Sennacherib returned from Judea, having fled during the days of the judgment enacted against him by the King of Heaven because of the blasphemies he had uttered; whomever he killed I buried. For in his rage he killed many Israelites, but I used to take their bodies away by stealth and bury them. So when Sennacherib looked for them, he could not find them.
But a certain Ninevite went and informed the king about me, that I was burying them, and I went into hiding. When I realized that the king knew about me and that I was being hunted to be put to death, I became afraid and took flight.
All my property was confiscated; I was left with nothing. All that I had was taken to the king’s palace, except for my wife Anna and my son Tobiah.
Although most people are inclined to ensure their loved ones are properly buried, the Christian is required to do more. Just as we are called to love our enemies, and care for the stranger, we are called to love and care for the stranger and enemy, by properly caring for their body upon death. Perhaps this final act of love for a stranger – burial bound with prayer – is the penultimate act of love for THIS person until we meet them in heaven before the beautific vision.
The Trailmen of OR-1531 will care for the departed this Saturday as they maintain the grounds of St. Barbara Cemetery, wash the tombstones, and pray!