Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Christ the King of My Disappointment (Matthew John Paul Tan)

This morning, a friend put on his Facebook page a link to an excellent article by Matthew John Paul Tan, a Roman Catholic theologian based in the Archdiocese of Sydney, an author and adjunct senior lecturer in theology at the University of Notre Dame Australia, and a member of the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission. He is the author of Redeeming Flesh: The Way of the Cross with Zombie Jesus (Cascade 2016) and Justice, Unity and the Hidden Christ: The Theolopolitical Complex of the Social Justice Approach to Ecumenism in Vatican II (Pickwick 2014).
A sample of his writing and presentations can be found here.
This reflection is shared with readers because of the large number of friends and parishioners who seem to need a little bit of encouragement right now. 
Over the weekend, we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe, more commonly known as the Feast of Christ the King.
This feast was introduced into the calendar by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in his encyclical Quas Primas (“In the First”). Though addressed to the universal church, the encyclical itself was partly a response to a number of local historical factors, which included the rise of fascism in Italy.
As the title suggests, Christ was reasserted as being the first of all things, opposed to the growing sense of putting nation either before or in the place of God. The Lectionary for the day put Christ’s reminder in the Book of Revelation:
I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
This line in the readings loomed large in my mind, for it juxtaposed with another theme I came across this week. This was the theme of disappointment.
This was the result of reading Bryan Stoudt’s moving article on learning of his son’s autism in Desiring God. The story can be extrapolated to a range of other scenarios, but the theme that endures is one of the closing of possibility by the circumstances of life.
How does Christ being King of the Universe square up with this very visceral experience of disappointment, especially given that this feast also stands at the threshold of Advent, where we wait the coming of the Incarnate Word? Is God incarnate or not? If he is, does his reign show its limit in the experience of disappointment?
What struck me in reading Stoudt’s article was his wife finding, if not the solution to her problem, certainly a response to her question, which she found in the book of Job. When Job asks God “Where were you in the maelstrom”, God asks in turn:
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth, tell me if you have understanding?
At first glance, this passage smacked of reinforcing the image of the distant king, exercising great power from afar. What corrected my imporession was the phrase “when I laid the foundations of the earth”. The image there was that of Psalm 113, where God sits on a throne and yet stoops down to look at the earth. But not only stoop down. He would lay it down, his fingers working into the earth, leaving his mark in the very foundations of the ground we inhabit.

His rule is not just from a distant centre. It operates in the dissemination of his imprint in the very texture of creation. In the vein of St Bonaventure, that imprint is none other than God himself in the Word, through whom all things were made.
What does that say of Christ’s rule as King in the midst of disappointment? It means that Christ the Word is part of the DNA of creation, and nothing falls outside the purview of the Word. Every event, every move of every creature occurs under the oversight of the second person of the trinity, because it is operative in everything that occurs.
What then of situations where disappointment or even trauma reign? The passage from Job looked at the foundation of God’s order, so what of the disorder that we see outside and experience inside?
It is here that Stoudt’s article reminded us of a well worn, but no less true, motif of the Christian faith, that Christ suffered on the Cross for us. God’s stooping down meant that His rule extended to having a cross for a throne, the death of God being the font of life for all creatures. Put another way, because of Christ’s passion, God’s rule extends even to the disorder within creation. In the words of the founder of Focolare, Chiara Lubich, because of Christ’s experience of abandoment from the source of order, the seeming abandonment of order, the divisions and separation that comes from it, paradoxically makes the person of the King – not just his rule – present in the foundations of the earth.
Still we return to the question: what does it say of His rule as king?
In the Office of Readings for this feast, the long reading is a passage by Origen, reflecting on the line in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy Kingdom Come”. Origen suggests that the kingdom is already present, especially in the jarring experiences of one’s life. Furthermore, it is not merely left as inert presence. As suggested in a previous post, the imprint of the Word imprints also those words in the Apocalypse: I am the beginning…
His rule thus extends to what Aaron Riches and Creston Davis call the imputation of “pure beginning” into the DNA of creation, its events and experiences.
This is why Origen can say in the midst of our disappointment “with God ruling in us, let us be immersed in the blessings of regeneration and resurrection”. The rending of our expectations and plans is thus the doorway through which the King enters.


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