Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain (John 12:24).
Nowhere in the Bible are directions given for the human body at death; however, both Judaism and Christianity have primarily practiced burial.
Death occurs when God removes the spirit from the body (James 2:26). The first mention of body care after death concerns Abraham and his wife Sarah (Genesis 23:19; 25:9-10). The patriarch of faith and his wife were buried in a natural cave, although we’re not given a reason. This practice was still in use at the time of Jesus and the early Church.
In the New Testament exists a symbolism in Christian burial. The body is likened to a grain of wheat falling into the ground, buried, then springing to new life. The death of the body is also pictured as sleep, because the body looks asleep. It’s also referred to as a tent or a temporary dwelling (2 Corinthians 4:13; 5:1, 4).
These illustrations make the body more significant than a mere “shell”, for God promises to awaken or resurrect every body from death. When Jesus returns, the Bible says the bodies of His followers will be reunited with their spirits and rise from the grave (1 Corinthians 15:42-43, 51). At the end of the age, remaining bodies with be reunited with their spirits and judged (Revelation 20:12-13).
Early Christians were buried in koimeterion. This Greek word is the basis for our English word cemetery, and literally means “sleeping places”. Cemeteries were often located next to church buildings for three reasons.
Historically, Christian death rituals were held in buildings of worship from at least the mid 500s AD. It was convenient to have a burial place close by. These cemeteries were both pictures of the shared rest Christians had in the hope of the resurrection, and the unity of believers in both life and death.
For many centuries, local congregations were also the practical center of Christians’ lives on earth. People worked somewhere and then slept and ate at home. Most everything else, from worship, to water baptism, to marriage, celebrating holidays, and burial occurred , and most everything else occurred at the local assembly building.