Nah, there's nothing morbid about us...
Anyway, Christian veneration of the bodies of the dead is as old as Christianity itself. It set Christians at odds with much of the ancient world around them, who, with a view toward hygiene, believed in getting dead bodies as far away as they could, as fast as they could. Burn them, bury them on the outskirts of town, just get rid of them before they spread whatever disease they died of.
Along come these strange little groups of Christians. We want to keep the dead nearby. Alright, we’ll bury them because we must, but not too deeply and not too far away. We want the graveyards here in the center of our community. Let’s go down to the catacombs to hold our liturgies on their tombs. And later, we’ll dig up the bones again and richly adorn them with gold and precious gems:
“We afterwards took up Polycarp’s bones – as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels and more purified than gold. We deposited them in a fitting place.” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, c. 135).Why such veneration for an empty shell?
Well, for one thing, the bones of the just have the power to heal and raise the dead:
“And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Eli'sha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Eli'sha, he revived, and stood on his feet” (2 King 13: 21).But whence comes this power?
Those bones are no empty shell. “This would not have happened unless the body of Elisha were holy,” record the Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390), which further advise: “Do not seek after Jewish separations… or purifications upon touching a dead body…. For as to those who live with God, even their very relics are not without honor.”
It is, you see, because they live, and are not dead that their power remains with their bodies.
Fundamental to understanding our “morbid taste for bones” is the truth of the resurrection. Christianity is an incarnate religion. “I believe… in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.” – so concludes the Apostle’s Creed. Ours is not a shadowy afterlife of wispy shapes and clouds. There, our flesh is restored, to burn or to exult, as the case may be.
Soul and body are one. The soul is the body’s life. They will be reunited.