from the earth

Mar 9, 2024


 “In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;”  Brooke

Over the years I have celebrated hundreds of funerals, most prepared in detail with family and friends gathering to celebrate the life of the one they love. There are efficient funeral directors, beautiful flowers, glossy brochures, photographs and video presentations, eulogies and even artificial grass and sterilised sand at the graveside.

Yet despite our efforts to soften the reality of death the pain of grief remains and is raw and real.

It was the Chatham Islanders who taught me how to really do a funeral well.

My first funeral on Pitt Island (two hours on a fishing boat after the six-hundred mile flight from Aotearoa to Chatham) was for Eva, matriarch of the small Pitt community and midwife on the island for as long as anyone could remember.

Over the next few years I buried several Islanders, Ken, Bill, Tim and Charlie among others.

In the absence of city niceties each Chatham funeral followed the same down-to-earth pattern with active participation of many in roles of communication, transport, food, hospitality, speaking, digging and filling the grave, singing, as the community carries the grieving family and friends through difficult funeral days.

All of this in funeral rites lasting two or three days, not a funeral director in sight and certainly no hint of washed sand or artificial grass.

Instead there was more often mud and gumboots on the hill-climb to the family-farm place of burial, and the rain and wind welcomed as a sign of divine blessing on the proceedings.

At a Chathams funeral there is no escaping the messy aspects of burial. There’s a rare readiness to speak of the dead with respectful honesty understanding that the God of love is greater than human imperfection, and a knowledge that God’s enjoys the quirks of human personality and temperament.

When grief is raw and family tensions surface we are brought down from our pedestals of achievement and ambition.

Our vulnerability in the face of the death of the one we love brings us to our knees in the earth.

Those who do not run from this reality become like the humble and therefore holy tax collector of today’s gospel.

Wikipedia gives a clear and helpful definition of humility:

“The term “humility” comes from the Latin word humilitas, a noun related to the adjective humilis, which may be translated as “humble”, but also as “grounded”, or “from the earth”, since it derives from humus (earth). See the English humus.”

From the earth.


We can’t avoid being brought-to-earth when we take a fist-full of soil then open our hands to let if land loudly on the coffin of the one we love. And we leave the cemetery with hands soiled with rich earth from which new growth comes.

I have seen family bring buckets of soil from the garden or farm of the one who has died. That’s powerful, the soil, once worked by our loved one, is now the reminder that they too will come to new and eternal life.

And today as I rest with these scriptures brought to ground by my own failures and fragility, I am moved anew by the hope-filled words of the Old Testament prophet Hosea

“after a day or two he will bring us back to life,
on the third day he will raise us
and we shall live in his presence.
Let us set ourselves to know the Lord;
that he will come is as certain as the dawn
his judgement will rise like the light,
he will come to us as showers come,
like spring rains watering the earth.”



FFF IN THE CAFE…a chance to chat about your experience of God in your life. Send your name and the name of a cafe or bar to Scribble FFF on a table napkin, take a seat and wait.

Join these gatherings:

Monday 11 March 2024  10.00am (& every Monday). Moku Cafe. Bush Inn Centre, Waimairi Road,  Christchurch. Trish

Monday 11 March 2024  11.00am.  California Garden Centre, 316 Waiwhetu Rd, Lower Hutt (Glass House Cafe). Catherine

Monday 11 March 2024  5.00pm Devon on the Wharf, Devonport, 1 Queens Parade, Devonport.  Kate & Francesca.

Email me to add another:


  1. To see earth as a living organism is a healthy way to consider our place in the cosmos. Soil not dirt. Humus not muck. Our relationship with our organic origin should be one of deep respect. Thanks for the reminder to stay grounded and humble.

  2. John, thanks for your earthy Chatham’s sharing!
    Lenten grist indeed!

    I remember the lesson (appreciated only later) Mum passed on to me…. in stress she would take to the garden and immerse her hands in the soil….

  3. Brings to mind the saying “being down to earth.” Don’t hide the truth say as it is, but in a kindly way.
    How often turning to Nature gives us the answer!

    • I think turning to nature is the right thing. it gives you more time to think and enjoy your surrounding. my sister used to live in the Chatham islands and I felt nature was different down there and for those that know the area Chatham Islands is situation at the bottom of south island in New Zealand God Bless

  4. Well, not exactly at the bottom of the South Island – It’s actually 870km East of Christchurch, and well worth a visit, you will certainly be among Nature there, and very much “Down to Earth” Delightful. And Thank You John for sharing your Chatham experiences.

  5. A fine reflection John.I had only two burials during my memorable year on the Chathams, 1976/77. One a baby and the other an elder. My first experience of the Maori way to honour the dead. I still remember them. the families digging the grave and burying their loved one. WE all await the moment when we will be lifted from the earth to be with the Lord in glory.


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