Reflecting on John Wesley's Tomb

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Pilgrims visit the tomb of John Wesley and learn a valuable lesson for ministry from his epitaph. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.
A Feature by Joe Iovino*
February 27, 2017

A lesson in stone

On March 2, 1791, in the home on the other side of the property, “with a simple ‘Farewell’ upon his lips, John Wesley, in the eighty-eighth year of his age, passed from the scene of his great evangelistic toils on earth to the joy of his everlasting reward,” biographer Richard Green eloquently writes of Wesley’s death (John Wesley—Evangelist, 1905).
A week later, early on the morning of March 9, a small group gathered at the tomb where Wesley’s body was laid to rest. Beginning the service at around 5:00 a.m. helped keep the gathering intimate. Reports indicate that tens of thousands visited City Road Chapel (as Wesley’s Chapel was then known) the day before to pay their last respects.
The epitaph on Wesley’s tomb is remarkable. It shares the story of his life and ministry. Describing Wesley as a great light that enlightened the nations and called the church to renewal, the inscription references his lengthy career of writing and work for the church. He “witnessed in the hearts and lives of many thousands,” the epitaph reads, and saw God’s provision for his work to last for future generations.
Before giving the date and circumstances of his death, the inscription concludes, “Reader, if thou art constrain’d to bless the instrument, give God the glory.” We might more commonly say, if you feel compelled to honor the person, praise God more.
After reading these words, one pilgrim whispered, “ever the evangelist, even in death.” Even his tomb calls us closer to Jesus.