Some of you may have the book, A MAN CALLED PETER. I’ve read it and have seen the movie based upon the book.
It was written by Peter Marshall’s widow, Catherine. He was an amazing preacher—one of the most influential in the twentieth century. His most famous pulpit was in Washington DC, but he also ministered to the U. S. Senate as its chaplain.
The movie portrays Marshall speaking to a regiment of midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. He was addressing the December graduating class. Sensing the need to change his message, he switched his text to James 4:14: For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away.
Marshall included the following story in his sermon. Watching the movie, I got goose bumps; what I share is the story as recorded in the book:
In a home of which I know, a little boy—the only son—was ill with an incurable disease. Month after month the mother had tenderly nursed him, read to him, and played with him, hoping to keep him from realizing the dreadful finality of the doctor’s diagnosis.
But as the weeks went on and he grew no better, the little fellow gradually began to understand that he would never be like the other boys he saw playing outside his window and, small as he was, he began to understand the meaning of the term death, and he, too, knew that he was to die.
One day his mother had been reading to him the stirring tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table: of Lancelot and Guinevere and Elaine, the lily maid of Astolat, and of that last glorious battle in which so many fair knights met their death.
As she closed the book, the boy sat silent for an instant as though deeply stirred with the trumpet call of the old English tale, and then asked the question that had been weighing on his childish heart: “Mother, what is it like to die? Mother, does it hurt?”
Quick tears sprang to her eyes and she fled to the kitchen supposedly to tend to something on the stove. She knew it was a question with deep significance. She knew it must be answered satisfactorily. So she leaned for an instant against the kitchen cabinet, her knuckles pressed white against the smooth surface, and breathed a hurried prayer that the Lord would keep her from breaking down before the boy and would tell her how to answer him.
And the Lord did tell her. Immediately she knew how to explain it to him.
“Kenneth,” she said as she returned to the next room, “you remember when you were a tiny boy how you used to play so hard all day that when night came you would be too tired even to undress, and you would tumble into mother’s bed and fall asleep?”
“That was not your bed…it was not where you belonged. And you stayed there only a little while. In the morning, much to your surprise, you would wake up and find yourself in your own bed in your own room. You were there because someone had loved you and taken care of you. Your father had come—with big strong arms—and carried you away. Kenneth, death is just like that. We just wake up some morning to find ourselves in the other room—our own room where we belong—because the Lord Jesus loved us.”
The lad’s shining, trusting face looking up into hers told her that the point had gone home and that there would be no more fear … only love and trust in his little heart as he went to meet the Father in Heaven.
In the movie, you see Marshall driving back to Washington that morning after the sermon. It was then that he heard the announcement on the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.
Many of those young men were soon sent to war. Some were soon dead.
With spiritual prescience, Marshall prepared those boys for what was to come.
Death will be here all-to-quickly for all of us. We will be ready?