Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.

Nikolaus von Zinzendorf

Count Zinzendorf was a bishop of the Moravian Church and would reportedly offer this instruction to his missionaries. I find it meaningful. I might change it slightly, however, to “Live the gospel, die, and be forgotten.” But either way, it makes me think of the beautiful, moving endings of two different novels, each of which I have recently finished reading. When I come across a theme in different places, I pay attention, and wonder what God might be saying to me. This is one of those occasions, especially because of the two most recent novels I have read.

The first of these was George Eliot’s “Middlemarch.” An amazing novel with a very famous ending, which I shared a few thoughts about this passage here. Here is that ending again:

The effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

The novel I read right after “Middlemarch” happened to be Thornton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” which also has an ending that is quite well-known, for good reason. Here it is:

But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

There is a theme here, isn’t there? We all live mostly hidden lives, hidden to the world but not to God. And eventually most of us will rest in largely unvisited tombs. We will all be forgotten, most likely. But the love we share here will be enough, the love that returns us to the Love that made us. We can learn this truth from novels, from preachers, and from personal experience. And I am learning this truth from all three of these sources. It is becoming a truth that guides me, as I return the Love that has been given to me, as I preach/live the gospel, and serve my God, as I attend funerals of loved ones, and as I continue the work to which I am called. The bridge is love. Always.

And to share one more quote, this a short poem by Wendell Berry, from his collection of Sabbath poems, “This Day”:

Whatever Happens | Wendell Berry

Whatever happens, 
those who have learned 
to love one another 
have made their way 
into the lasting world 
and will not leave, 
whatever happens.


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