Victory in Christ
A review of Andrew Cinnamond's, Sure and Certain Hope: Death And Burial in the Book of Common Prayer.
In six years as an Anglican Church planter overseas I conducted no funerals but plenty of marriages and baptisms for my young congregation. Last year I led my first funeral service in a crematorium for a small family gathering with no church affiliation but of a lady who had been a steady church goer. What would this family make of the service, I asked myself, laden as it was with biblical language that seemed at odds with much popular thought on the end of life and what might fall beyond? I was surprised at how thankful the family was, because it seemed that the authority and gravitas of the service helped give dignity to the end of the deceased’s life in a way that no secular ceremony could.
Several years ago I had discovered much about the background of our funeral services in Andrew Cinnamond’s interesting and informative book: Sure and Certain Hope (Cinnamond’s PhD was in Reformation church history and he is also the vicar of my parent’s church; one of our supporting SAMS/CMS churches). This was the first Latimer Trust book that I read. I learnt from it how Cranmer’s liturgical genius was not so much in inventing new liturgies but reforming older ones, such as the Old Latin Sarum Rite, to let the Word of God provide the authority in the service. Theologically he changed the emphasis in the funeral service from a focus on the dead and prayers for them, to edifying and comforting the living.
In sixty pages the author gives a masterful overview of the Christian theology of death and burial, from Biblical times through to the Medieval age, before focusing on the Reformation and the book of Common Prayer (BCP). He also shows how recent Anglican liturgy has reopened the door to more catholic elements in the burial service, as seen in the 1928 Prayer Book, the 1980 Alternative Service Book and Common Worship (2000). Cinnamond also looks at how the modern British funeral has developed and gives practical suggestions on funeral leading. He finishes by highlighting the most important principles from the BCP which he thinks are still relevant for us today:
Funeral services are for the living, not the dead
Fear has been overcome by confidence
Faithfulness to the Bible rather than tradition
Focus on Jesus as our only mediator
There are also two very useful appendices, the first looking at cremation versus burial. It is interesting that as we move into a post-christendom era, even Christians are opting more and more for the previous pagan practice of cremation rather than the Christian tradition of burial. The second is on suicide and there Cinnamond reveals his pastoral heart. He gives an historical overview of suicide and the Christian faith, urging the minister to give plenty of space for family confession but to keep the focus on ‘a compassionate, loving God, who is with us in our sorrow and grief, longing for us to turn to Him’.
In this time of crisis, with the coronavirus pandemic taking an increasing number of lives on a daily basis, Sure and Certain Hope is well worth the read for Anglicans and non-Anglicans, lay people and ministers. It shows how Christian funeral services have developed over the centuries, how the Word of God permeates them and how there is ‘Sure and Certain Hope’ for the children of God, because Christ has defeated our ultimate enemy - death.
Daniel Kirk is vicar of St Michael’s, Gidea Park.