Some British scholars have long suspected that one of their former kings was buried beneath a modern parking lot.
After much research by the University of Leicester, it was recently confirmed that, indeed, the remains unearthed there were those of Richard III (1452-85), the last Plantagenet King of England.

About 100 miles north of London, a group known as the Richard III Society recently and proudly proclaimed that DNA records from a distant relative now confirm that an excavated skeleton once held the body and bluster of the former king from the 15th century.

Richard III was mortally wounded in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the last great skirmish over the crown in the War of the Roses (1455-87). The dead or dying Richard was flung naked across a horse and carried back to Leicester.

Sometime after his death, his remains ended up buried in the local church. Not long thereafter, Henry the Eighth trashed the church and, in current time, that very sacred space has become a parking lot.

Modern-day archaeologists unearthed the skeleton in an earlier dig. Since Richard III had scoliosis and since the skeleton evidences a curved spine, secondary proof provides additional confirmation to the DNA verification.

Apparently, poor Richard had his buttocks punctured and his head decapitated, likely due to the nasty and symbolic acts of his enemies in the immediate post-battle celebrations surrounding the death of the monarch.

There is now a plan afoot to reinter the royal remains within the currently sacred space of Leicester Cathedral, an American football field’s length from the current car park.

This scenario got me to thinking about the fickleness of human fate, the transient nature of social geography and the limited potency of once-powerful earthly institutions.

Kings and potentates, especially in conflict-ridden lands and times, often conclude their lives in very unroyal circumstances.

Remember the once imperial, egregiously powerful and fabulously wealthy Saddam Hussein who ended up hiding, like a rat, in an underground Iraqi hole in the ground, with some unused jockey shorts as his only treasure?

But I have also seen similar things happen among the unroyal.

As the one-time pastor of a church located in the wealthiest ZIP code in Houston (where dirt still sells for at least $1 million an acre), I witnessed, up close, the final state of some very rich and powerful people.

I can attest to the reality that times change, power is fleeting, even lots of money is no guarantee of long-term dignity, and, of course, death comes to all of us.

A once-proud and powerful king buried beneath a common, utilitarian slab of asphalt or a once-sacred space that now is striped so that people can park their motorcars and “pay and display” – these are but parables of what happens to every one of us and much of the terra firma, which is hardly as firm as we would like to believe.

All of this got me to thinking, not so much about real estate gentrification or decline, but about what “permanent footprint” I, and my cherished institutions, should aim to leave on this planet.

If the ecological people have alerted us, and rightly so, to the effects of our individual and corporate “carbon footprints” that we leave on the earth’s surface, I am wondering today about the emotional, ethical, moral and historical “footprint” I and my family, my church, business or school should aim to leave behind.

Knowing that, someday, like old Richard III, most of what I have worked hard to build, as well as my time-worn and battle-scarred bones, will be erased or entombed somewhere in a humble, dark and unrecognizable place, what evidence that I once lived do I want to remain?  

What, indeed, do I wish to leave behind as a legacy?

As I reflect seriously on these existential and indeed extraterrestrial questions, I am convinced that most people actually care little about a fancy gravesite or an elaborate marker representing their lives or institutional efforts.

Despite messianic visions and selfish needs to make an impact or to leave a “mark” on this old world, our powers are actually quite limited and our time is always shorter than we want to admit.

How about you?

What are you up to in the “here and now” that has a “snowball’s chance” of being significant beyond the ravages of time?

What message would you aspire to “shout out” from beneath the car park?

Bob Newell is ministry coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Athens, Greece. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, ItsGreek2U, and is used with permission.

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