Leviticus 19:28: You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.
Devotion: A grandmother lay in her casket. The grieving family gathered around her body to mourn Rachel’s death. Each grandchild processed passed the body to see if their name was still tattooed on their grandmother’s wrist, starting with the oldest to the youngest. Parents comforted their children by saying, “see, grandma remembers you.” It was the only time I witnessed this unique ritual.
Tattoos have become popular, again. I write, “again,” because they were popular among the pagan cultures during the time of the Patriarchs. It was customary in Near Eastern cultures to memorialize the dead by cutting or tattooing the body. This superstitious practice attempted to keep alive the deceased loved one. In the Hebraic law, God forbid this scandalous bereavement ritual of remembering the dead with tattoos and marks upon the body. People were not responsible for remembering the deceased or keeping their death alive. The Eternal One was responsible for remembering those who had gone before us.
Also, tattoos on or under the human flesh do not last forever. Tattoos only last as long as an individual is alive. God spoke of humanities temporary condition through the prophet of Isaiah, saying, “Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” Memorials in human skin do not endure forever.
The People of God were to practice different grieving ritual. We were to entrust the memory of our ancestors to the Lord who lives forever beyond time and space! In Isaiah 49:16, God said, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” Instead of disfiguring the skin, which dishonors the image of God in the person, the People of God were to recognize God’s permanent inscription of our names on the palms of God’s hands.
The nails piercing Jesus’ hands were God’s inscription tool. The indelible ink was Jesus’ crimson blood poured out on the Cross of Calvary. The names are those who confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God. The canvas is the hand of the Creator. Who better to remember – and call forth the memory of the deceased – than the One who is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all humankind?
Prayer: God our Father, you are eternal while we are finite. You are permanent, while we pass away like the grass and leaves in each time of season. You created in your image which we sinfully marred. Forgive us. In our grief, send us your indwelling Spirit to help us trust in your wisdom, permanence, and presence. Let us rejoice like the angels of heaven when a sinner comes home, and their name is engraved on your hand with the blood of Jesus. We pray. Amen.
Prayer Exercise: “Tallith: The Prayer Shawl,” page 128, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown. All rights reserved.