Whitewashed tombs. They’re pretty, all right–visit Egypt sometime, and be amazed. Or those monuments to aristocratic families in Jerusalem–families of whose names most of us have never heard: yep, they’re pretty. But the memories? Not so much. Most of the Pharaohs commemorated were nonentities. A handful were tyrants, a handful were monsters, a handful were geniuses. But most were nonentities. And all the limestone carvings in the world, all the grandiose inscriptions about battlefield victories (many of which, modern historians conclude, are at best “based on a true story” if not outright fictions), all the happy scenes of prosperous domesticity don’t hide the fact that two generations after the burials most of the tombs were emptied by robbers who had little regard for the corpses except as a source of pawn-shop jewelry.
We’re nothing more than tomb-builders unless we’re building the Kingdom. And that Kingdom, friends, is one in which my legacy is immaterial. It’s Christ’s Kingdom, in which not even a sparrow (and therefore also not Steve Wilson) will fall unforgotten: if I’m working to help build that, then it’s all the monument I need. Sure, we need to make sure that the stuff we do lasts after us, otherwise it was just a monument to our own vanity. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing for the future. I often wonder at the reluctance of some Episcopalians to evangelize, to make new Episcopalians, at the same time that we pat ourselves on the back for our progressive Christian values–our progressive Christian values are of no value whatsoever if they wither and die in less than a generation for want of anyone interested in carrying them forward to the future, if they’re only available to me and my contemporaries. That feels a bit like a monument, emptied of its contents and sitting there demanding to be applauded for its whitewash, doesn’t it?
Build for posterity–but do so for His sake, for the Kingdom’s sake, for the neighbors’ sake whom you’ll never meet because they’re not yet born, not for your own legacy. Because like all those Pharaohs whose names we can’t even pronounce anymore, an empty legacy is still empty no matter how grand the decor.