Biblical euphemisms for death

7 This is the length of Abraham’s life: 175 years. 8 He took his last breath and died at a ripe old age, old and full of days] and he was gathered to his people. (Genesis 25:7-8)

17 This is the length[e] of Ishmael’s life: 137 years. He took his last breath and died, and was gathered to his people. (Genesis 25:17)

33 When Jacob had finished instructing his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and died. He was gathered to his people. (Genesis 49:33)

14 “I am now going the way of all the earth, and you know with all your heart and all your soul that none of the good promises the LORD your God made to you has failed. Everything was fulfilled for you; not one promise has failed. (Joshua 23:14)

(All verses are HCSB)

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An order of readings for a funeral service

Psalm 130

Wisdom 1:12-15

Wisdom 3:1-9

Psalm 23

Romans 5:5-11 (or Romans 6:3-9)

Psalm 121

John 6:37-40

1 Corinthians 15:5-55

Notes – BibleGateway is an excellent website for copying Bible verses. They have many translations, including the “New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition” which will have the readings from Wisdom, a book from the Apocrypha and thus not in a Protestant Bible. All of these readings (except for Psalm 121) come from the Catholic daily readings appointed for All Soul’s Day.

Note that I don’t say “Celebration of Life” as some people will. While it is important to be positive and celebrate the person who we were fortunate enough to know, it is also important to acknowledge that they have died. There is too much white-washing of death going on these days. “Cemeteries” are now called “memorial parks”. Prominent and visible headstones are now out of favor for discrete in-set bronze plaques. Even coffins which have the shape of a person have now been transformed into caskets, which are simple rectangular boxes to intentionally obscure the fact of the contents. Funeral directors are no longer called morticians or undertakers. Embalmers are “derma surgeons”. The more we cover over the reality of death, the harder it will be for us to accept its inevitability. Death comes to us all. The sooner we accept that, the sooner we can go on with living our lives mindfully, knowing that they are finite.

Decamp

Let us consider the death euphemism “the dearly departed”.

“Departed” is a very useful term when speaking about death. The Greek word analyseos, which is rendered in English as “depart” really means “to break camp”. It means to take down your tent and move on to another place.

Consider the Jewish festival of Sukkot. (Sukkah, singular, means “booth” or “tabernacle”. Sukkot is plural). It is celebrated on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which is around September or October). You’ll find it observed by Jesus in John 7:1-52.

Booths or tabernacles are temporary structures that Jews live in for a week as a remembrance of what they lived in when they traveled for forty years in the desert to reach the Holy Land. The structures are built every year, and intentionally have flimsy walls and a roof you can see the stars through. All meals are eaten inside this structure, and ideally you are to sleep in it at least one night.

This is a very beautiful symbol of our bodies. They are temporary structures that we dwell within. They are fragile, and while able to endure stronger gusts of wind than the sukkah can, they are not permanent and subject to decay. It is a sign of our utter dependence upon God.

Remember that Jesus is said to have “tabernacled” among us”, to have become enfleshed.

When we die, it is really that we have departed. We have left our temporary dwelling behind. We have left for a better place, just like how nomadic people will break camp to follow the herds or to move to where the crops are ripe. Just like how the Jews gave up their tents when they entered the Holy Land.

Death isn’t the end. It is just the end of life as we know it.