By Everette Chapman
In Catherine Marshall’s biography of her husband, A Man Called Peter, later made into a popular movie, she tells of a fateful speaking engagement for Peter Marshall, when he was asked to be the chapel speaker at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. There is a poignant scene in the movie in which Peter confesses to the Commandant that the sermon he had planned to preach to the Midshipmen has left him and that he feels compelled to preach another sermon. That sermon is included in one of his sermon anthologies and was entitled “Rendezvous in Samarra.”
That “rendezvous” is described in an old Arab legend that Peter Marshall shared in his sermon to the young sailors. According to the legend, the servant of a merchant in Baghdad had been sent by his master to the marketplace. Suddenly, he came running in to report to his master, “In the marketplace in Baghdad I saw Death, and he made a threatening gesture toward me. May I take a horse from the stables so that I may flee to Samarra to escape him?”
The master agreed, and the servant quickly packed some essentials, leapt aboard the horse, and fled to Samarra. After his departure, the master himself went down to the marketplace and approached Death. “Why did you make a threatening gesture toward my servant?” he demanded to know.
Death shook his head in perplexity. “Oh, no, it was not a threatening gesture I made toward your servant; it was actually a look of surprise. I did not expect to see him in Baghdad, for I have an appointment with him tomorrow in Samarra.”
After having told that story, Peter Marshall said to Midshipmen and their officers, “Each one of us has an appointment in Samarra, an appointment we cannot avoid. It is essential that we make preparation for that rendezvous with death by having a strong faith in Him who proclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life; whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.’”
Those of you who have read the book or seen the movie, A Man Called Peter, will recall the cruel irony that, as he was driving away from the Naval Academy after having given a young Midshipman a ride, his radio blasted out the horrible news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and that all Naval leaves were cancelled. He turned around and drove the young sailor back to the Academy. In all probability, within weeks, months, or years, that lad would face his own “rendezvous in Samarra,” as did Peter Marshall himself in a premature, untimely death.
The year just past has brought several painful reminders that we all have an appointment with Death. In 2017, I bade farewell to a beloved brother, gave the eulogy for a life-long mentor and friend, mourned the passing of my favorite colleague in ministry, and tried to fortify my son, his children, and his grandchildren in the sudden passing of his beloved wife. Each of them faced that inevitable rendezvous with Death.
That is the bad news, but here is the good news, talked about by Peter Marshall on December 7, 1942. We may bravely and without fear face our own “Rendezvous in Samarra,” by having as our Companion and Protector, the Lord of Life Himself. I am grateful that those “whom I have loved long since and lost for a while” faced their fated appointment in the loving, protective companionship of One who is stronger than death. That is incredible Good News! Do you have Him as your Companion and Protector? By faith you may.
Rev. Everette Chapman is pastor of Fairfield Mountains Chapel, Lake Lure.