When I was a young boy, every so often Doug and I would stay at my maternal grandparents’ home – about a mile or so from where our family lived. We didn’t stay overnight very often, but Grandma had a way with words and if we slept late in the morning, she would let us know that we must have slept the “the sleep of the dead.” Rarely, but occasionally, Mom would use the same language and it wasn’t difficult to figure out where she learned it.
Last night – out here in Billings, Montana, was one of those nights. Janet and I headed out here yesterday and by the time we arrived, after a stop in Minneapolis, it was about 3:30 pm local time – two hours behind eastern time. We secured our luggage, picked up the rental car and decided to explore a little – having never been in this area of the country before. We left the airport grounds and headed east along the highway to the Little Bighorn Battlefield and Memorial. This is the place where George Custer and several hundred of his troops met their fate at the hands of more than 7000 Indians from several combined tribes under the authority of Sitting Bull.
Of course, in school, I remember studying all this, but this is the first time that we have seen the battlefield. It is criss-crossed with markers of where both Custer’s troops and the Indians fell in battle. It is a rather somber place – with both sides suffering casualties, although Custer’s troops were annihilated while the Indian forces lost between 60 and 100 braves.
Custer’s men were buried on the battlefield, usually where they were slain, but the Indians removed their dead and provided elaborate rituals in keeping with their tradition of the spirit world. Eventually, Custer and a number of his officers were removed and re-buried back east, so there is a real mix of who is actually buried on the battlefield. At the beginning of this century, a monument was started honoring the Indians who fell in battle – it was completed in 2013 and is a large circle with sculptures of horses signifying the spirit of the warriors – there was already a monument to Custer’s men.
We drove through the area and out to the place where the battle began. All in all, we were there several hours. By the time we checked into our hotel, it was getting late and after dinner, Janet and I were both “dead” tired. Today starts our real time in Montana and for the next several days, we plan on visiting Yellowstone as well as Glacier National Parks. But early this morning, we both still needed rest – as Grandma would have said, we slept the “sleep of the dead.”
So what does that mean? It kind of scared me when I was a little kid and I heard that. After all, who wants to go to bed and not wake up – ever? But Paul, the apostle who wrote many books of the New Testament, wrote a letter to the Thessalonians explaining that the dead in Christ would not be dead forever. In fact, in a rather brief but detailed explanation, Paul lets us know what will happen.
He tells us, in 1 Thess. 4:13-18, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.
So I guess the sleep of the dead isn’t such a bad thing after all. And whether Custer’s men who believed in Christ, or you, or your distant relatives who are no longer with us – we all have the assurance that we will rise again – victorious with Christ. My encouragement this evening is that physical death is not the end. My prayer is that we should be grateful that Jesus and His Father have provided a way for us to live eternally – and that we don’t ever need to worry about the “sleep of the dead.” The Trinity has you covered. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…