PETER MARSHALL, EASTER AND THE CELEBRATION OF LIFE
Once again the Easter season has arrived bringing with it the beauty of new
flowers, the leafing of the trees and shrubs and for many of us, the message of
the Easter story with all its sorrow, beauty and majesty of rebirth and
As I have done for more years than I can recall, as Easter approaches, I
pull down from the bookshelf my copy of “Egermeier’s Bible Story Book”, which
was a gift to me from Aunt Ruby on December 23, 1955. As Ruby was my mentor for
all things literary, she wanted me to have a firm and basic understanding of the
teachings of the Bible set in a language children could understand. This book, a
revised edition, was published in 1955 and was in its fifty-fifth printing of
This book was one of my favorite gifts that Christmas and I poured over the
pages, looking at the pictures and illustrations, always not fully understanding
the messages some of the stories told. But the Easter stories were the best as
Mrs. Egermeier took from the pages of the Bible various passages and reworked
them for children’s comprehension. The accompanying pictures of Jesus’ entry
into Jerusalem, The Last Supper, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the
crucifixion and the wonderful story of the women coming to the tomb on Easter
morning to find the stone rolled away and the burial cloths folded neatly on the
slab where Jesus body lay are some of the most exciting and thrilling stories
for any child to read. At the age of nine, these stories were seared into my
brain and later on when I received my first King James Bible I hurriedly located
the passages of the Easter story to read now as a young adult the actual story
as related by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Now, as a senior citizen, my Bible Story Book continues to hold a special
place in my heart being an early introduction to my Christian education as it
helped form a solid background in my adult years to the teachings of the Bible
and what it stands for.
This beautiful season of the year brings to mind a person who instilled in
me as an adult the message of the Easter in the most thrilling way possible. He
brought the story of the last weeks and days of Jesus’ life to life with such
force and conviction you would have sworn he had been there in another life.
The man I refer to was one of the most beloved and sought after ministers…..the
late Dr. Peter Marshall.
The secret of Peter Marshall’s impact on America lay in his ability to
relate to all types of people, including the non-religious. Due to his immense
popularity he was referred to as “the pastor to everyman.”
After his sudden death from a heart attack, his wife Catherine was besieged
by friends, family and fans to gather up his sermons and put them in a book.
This endeavor led to her first book, “Mr. Jones, Meet the Master.” This book was
such a tremendous seller his fans wanted more. In her own words Catherine
“In the years since Mr. Jones, Meet the Master was released, there has been
a steady stream of requests for more of Dr. Marshall’s sermon material. I found
in my possession 96 Easter manuscripts from eighteen years and four months of
preaching. In reading these sermons covering the events of Passion Week, I
quickly found myself caught up in the drama – sheer drama, engrossing, at times
tender, at times terrible – and always I found myself moved by Peter’s ability
to enlist the emotions on the side of faith.
Thus The First Easter unfolded itself. My only part in this has been to take
from the many sermons Dr. Marshall’s re-creation of each scene, as event
followed event and edit the material only in which to weave it together. Here
then is Easter seen through the eyes and described from the heart of one man.”
A large matted framed treasure hangs on a wall in my home. Inside the frame
is a photo of Dr. Marshall in his Scottish Kilt holding his Bible with his
signature below the picture. Across from the photo is a handwritten page from
one of his many sermons. Years ago I happened upon this treasure from an antique
dealer and knew I had to have it because of my admiration and appreciation for
Dr. Marshall and the comfort his deeply personal sermons have given me over the
The late Van B. Hooper founded a family-themed magazine, Ideals Magazine, in
1944, which is currently in its 75th year. I came to know and appreciate this
magazine as it was a favorite of my grandmother. My favorite issues were Easter,
Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Though no longer family owned, over
the years the issues have dwindled down to only Easter and Christmas. How
surprised I was to find, early on, that many of Rev. Marshall’s prayers and
excerpts from his sermons had found their way into the old issues making these
issues even more meaningful. Every Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas my copies
of these issues find a prominent spot in my home to enjoy during the seasons.
Along with my Bible Story Book, I pull down my copy of The First Easter
to reread as nothing speaks deeper to me about Jesus and his message of death,
redemption and life after death than does this deeply affecting book.
Age brings about curiosity of many things. In reading various facets of the
Easter season complete with legends about Easter I have added to my bookshelf
alongside Dr. Marshall’s book a volume by Pamela Kennedy, a long-time writer for
Ideals Magazine, whose book, Easter Celebration: Traditions and Customs From
Around the World, unlocks the stories of how some of the Easter traditions came
Wanting to know more about Good Friday, the day of Jesus’s crucifixion, and
curious to why this day was called “good” when there was certainly nothing good
about it, Pamela Kennedy answered my question and provided background on this
day. She recalls: “Good Friday used to be called God’s Friday because it was
the day Jesus was crucified. This is the most solemn day of the year for
Christians as they recall the suffering and death of Jesus.
In past times, there were many superstitions connected with Good Friday.
Miners were afraid to go down into the mines because they thought the earth was
cursed on that day when Jesus was laid in the tomb. Blacksmiths refused to
pound a nail because nails were used in the crucifixion. And many housewives
thought it bad luck to wash clothes on Good Friday because Christ had been
wrapped in linen cloths on this day.
Farmers, however, believed seeds planted on Good Friday would yield
wonderful crops. Some people collected water in containers on this day because
they thought it would cure eye diseases.
The Bible says when Jesus hung on the cross, the sky became dark from noon
until three o’clock in the afternoon. Long ago, Christians held quiet church
services during these three hours on Good Friday. Statues and pictures of Christ
were draped in black cloth and prayers were offered for forgiveness of sins.
The special devotion called the Stations of the Cross were started during
the Crusades six hundred years ago. Pictures or statues were placed along a
city street. Each one was called a “station” and showed a different part of
Christ’s trial, death or burial. Christians walked from station to station,
reciting prayers at each one.
This weekend many churches will hold Good Friday services from noon until
three, and almost all Catholic churches are decorated with pictures or statues
depicting the Stations of the Cross.”
At this most critical time in our world’s history, Easter weekend is a time
to celebrate with friends and family in sharing in the beauty and reason for the
days and search for ways to find peace and harmony among countries as we unite
in remembering the events and the causes which led us to this Easter Sunday.