Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (I Corinthians 15:51-57) transports me to the early 90s set of one of my favorite tv shows, Quantum Leap. The sci-fi plot was simple; Dr. Sam Beckett was a scientist who got “lost in time” through a botched experiment with a time-traveling machine. Each episode some mysterious force caused Sam to “leap” into a different character from history, and as that person, Sam had to do something important to “correct” history and put right something that once went wrong. He never knew who his next character would be, and he never was sure what his “mission” was, but he believed that God was controlling his transformations, and he always hoped that the next leap would be to his own time and into his own life. It was fun to see the transformation happen; as soon as he completed whatever mission he had as the character of the episode, the mysterious flash would happen and he would “wake up” in a different time period as somebody completely different, maybe an Air Force test pilot, or a member of a hard rock band or motorcycle gang, or a fashion photographer.
In the opening narration of each show, Sam explained the premise using language reminiscent of today’s Passage. He described how his changes happened in the blink of a cosmic clock. The apostle Paul would have loved that. Paul was writing to help some troubled Corinthians do some time traveling of their own, by imagining a future day in a a mysterious land where trumpets wake the dead and everybody morphs into a new body. The leap from one existence to another happens in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, Paul tells the Corinthians. His letter is designed to give hope to early church members who had been expecting an early arrival of the coming Lord; they were worried about loved ones who had died during His delay. Don’t worry, Paul tells the anxious church in Corinth. The trumpet will sound and the dead will wake, but not only that, we’ll all make a quantum leap into a whole new life, completely transformed.
Like most biblical texts, this one has meaning on more than one level. It can certainly have the same meaning for us as it did for the first century Christians, providing hope of life after death and an “end time” experience of resurrection during that great gettin’ up morning. But I also read it as a description of what can and does happen to followers of Christ all the time. When we immerse ourselves in the story of Jesus, and when, like Paul, we are daily crucified with Christ, each day of our lives is a resurrection, a transformation, like a new episode of Quantum Leap, a great gettin‘ up morning. That phrase from the old gospel song is apt, since Paul described the dead as being “asleep.” There’s more than one level of meaning to that as well. It’s interesting to me that in recent years medical research has linked excessive daytime sleepiness to depression, citing it and not sleep apnea as the number one cause for chronic fatigue. That rings true for me. And that connection gives the passage a richer application. It is the daily hope that we sleepwalkers can be changed, transformed, given a new character and new mission for the day, and the snoozing death of our old selves can be swallowed up in the victory of a resurrected life. It’s interesting to me to take note of how depression lifts. The rising sometimes does happen in a flash, in the blink of a cosmic clock. It might be triggered through an unexpected encounter, or in hearing an unexpected song, or seeing an unexpected sight – and suddenly the sleepiness lifts and I experience the world through new skin; I am different because of it. It is like Alice in Wonderland, when the caterpillar questioned her: who are you? And she replied, I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then. In that vein, I’m listening for the White Rabbit to blow today’s trumpet sound. (Can anybody remember what the doormouse said?)
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Matters of Life and Death.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.