A scene from the coronation of Charles III arrested me. During the recession, the newly crowned king passed down the aisle of Westminster Abbey. As he did so, he stepped around a single grave: the grave of the Unknown Warrior.
The warrior’s body was brought from France to be buried in the Abbey on November 11, 1920. The inscription reads:
BENEATH THIS STONE RESTS THE BODY
OF A BRITISH WARRIOR
UNKNOWN BY NAME OR RANK
BROUGHT FROM FRANCE TO LIE AMONG
THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS OF THE LAND…
THEY BURIED HIM AMONG THE KINGS BECAUSE HE
HAD DONE GOOD TOWARD GOD AND TOWARD
Around the main inscription are four biblical texts, including this one from 2 Timothy 2:19: “THE LORD KNOWETH THEM THAT ARE HIS.” King George V attended his burial. The grave is so important that all royal brides married in the Abbey since then have sent back their bouquets to be laid on the grave.
Even new kings and queens step around the grave on the day that they receive their crowns.
I thought of the unknown warrior this past week. We’ve lost some important leaders this past week. Harry Reeder, pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was killed in a car accident last Thursday. Tim Keller, an influential pastor and author, died of cancer last Friday. Donald Macleod, a prominent theologian, died on Sunday.
All of these leaders have rightfully received acclaim. Their influence has been outstanding; their deaths have been widely noted, not just by the church, but by the world.
But this past week, many unknown servants of Christ have died as well. Some died with scant notice. Their lives will not be celebrated by the masses; their names will soon be forgotten.
‘The Lord knows those who are his.’ The rest of the world may forget, but God won’t.
That’s why I’m glad for the tomb of the Unknown Warrior. More than a million British soldiers died in World War I. Most of their names have been forgotten. A single tomb lies in a prominent spot in Westminster Abbey to remind kings, queens, dignitaries, and the rest of us that we dare not forget the forgotten. They matter too. Their names will not be recorded in history, but their importance must not be overlooked. Even kings must step out of the way when they come to the grave of the Unknown Warrior.
“The Lord knows those who are his.” The rest of the world may forget, but God won’t.
I praise God for Reeder, Keller, and Macleod. They served well, and it’s right to honour them and others who will be remembered for their gifts and faithfulness. But I also praise God for the unknown servants who served and who died forgotten this past week — those who will never be known outside the small group of people they influenced, and who will be forgotten sooner than they should be. God knows them too. Their deaths are precious; the impact of their ministries will ripple into eternity.
They too have their place among the most illustrious of the land. They mattered too, and I praise God for them.