There’s the story of the little old lady who felt that her life was ebbing away. She called in the minister to make her final arrangements. ‘When I’m properly laid out,’ she said, ‘I want you to put a dinner fork in my hands.’ ‘Why so?’ he asked. ‘Well, when I was young, and we’d had our dinner, my mother used to tell us: “Keep your fork: the best is yet to come.”’
The mystery of death has been interpreted and ritualised in many different ways over the ages. Here we will sketch the central Christian tradition on death by contrasting it with other views. Christian death rituals have a quality of celebration. They are shot through with hope-filled anticipation that, despite the extinguishing of a life, the best is indeed yet to come.
· In contrast to atheists, agnostics and humanists, Christians believe in the existence of God. God, they say, is not an abstract philosophic construct but a God who cares intensely for everyone, even beyond death. The real God is ‘God not of the dead but of the living, for to God all people are in fact alive’ (Lk 20:38). In the Christian perspective, there are no dead persons, only persons who have passed through death and are now fully alive to God and others.