On December 7, 1941 my precious Daddy sat in chapel at the United States Naval Academy listening to a sermon preached by Peter Marshall, the great Scot preacher.
His wife Catherine details "behind the scenes" of that sermon in the biography of her husband, A Man Called Peter:
"A strange feeling which he [Peter Marshall] couldn’t shake off led him to
change his announced topic to an entirely different homiletical theme based on
James 4:14: For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a
little time and then vanisheth away. In the chapel before him was the
December graduating class 1941, young men who in a few days would receive their
commissions and go on active duty. In that sermon titled Go Down Death,
Peter Marshall used this illustration:
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
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. —Catherine Marshall, A Man Called Peter, pp. 230-231, 272-273
As my father told us the story of that day, he said that when they walked out of chapel the newsboys were on the streets crying, "Extra, extra! This morning the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor was bombed...." Within a few months many of those midshipmen who heard Peter Marshall's sermon that fateful day would go down to hero's graves in strange seas. Soon all of them would be personally involved in the business and dangers of war.
The sermon they heard in chapel that day offered these men the defining metaphor of the reality of eternal life: For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away. (James 4:14)
On December 7 I often - almost always - reflect on my dad's real life experience. This year is no different except that another chapter has been written in this story. It was written early on the morning of August 5, 2012. On that day my precious Daddy was carried by his heavenly Father (in much the same way as Daddy often carried each of the six of his children back to our beds at night) to his eternal home. NOW my dad knows what waking up in that other room is in reality! He is in the place he belongs forever - the place that will never vanish away where there is no more fear or pain, no more death or sorrow or tears - the place where Jesus sits on His throne proclaiming, "Behold I make all things new!"