The Beauty of Christ the King


The glorious authority of Christ the King is beautifully portrayed in the Ghent Altarpiece, by Van Eyck, among the greatest works of European art. We see the one who sacrificed himself, by becoming like a lamb led to slaughter. The “mystic lamb” is now sovereign over the cosmos, with the crowns of this world’s kings at his feet. Robed in what Charles Wesley called “dreadful majesty,” he now blesses the world with his upheld hand.

Believing in Christ the King involves believing not only that we are presently one with him, in the Spirit. It also involves believing that he will come again in glory. For he will bring to completion and fulfillment –in our experience– all that he accomplished through his death, resurrection and ascension. Drawing again upon Charles Wesley’s paraphrase of Revelation 1, it means believing that when “Christ the Lord returns to reign, [e]very eye shall… behold him…; [even] those who set at nought and sold him, pierced and nailed him to the tree.”

We may be tempted to lament that we do not see him now, and that we have to wait. But we do see him ~ in the ways that he has chosen to reveal himself ~ in ourselves and in each other. Most especially, we see him in the sacrament of the Eucharist, our foretaste of the full revealing of his glory.

Now, to call Christ the “King,” and to say that “he shall come again,” may seem like abstract statements, disconnected from our lives. Yet, we can ask a question that makes these statements concrete. Let’s ask ourselves this: who reigns, or who exercises sovereignty over my life? Who is truly king of my life, every day? In principle, we may say that it is Jesus. But in practice, it’s not so simple. For the answer about who really functions as king in my life, is not likely to be him, but me! In other words, Christ may be King. But I act and live like the kind of prideful prince who can’t wait to take over, and who behaves as if he already has.

And so we need to remember this: in principle, God has crowned Christ as King, and will never dethrone him. Yet, in practice, we are able to push Christ aside from sovereignty over our lives, or at least ignore his power. At the same time, since he is already Christ the King, we can honor him as sovereign over ourselves. His glory then replenishes our poverty of spirit, and transforms the emptiness of our virtue. In the process, the reality of his kingship does not change. Yet the actuality of his meaning for us grows profoundly, every day.


This post is based on my homily for the Feast of Christ the King, November 25, 2018, which can be accessed by clicking here.  Other homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here.


  1. Thank you for this meditation. Your quotations from Wesley are helpful to me. Your comment that “in principle” and “in practice” things may be different reminds me of the first commandment.

    A comment about kings: In Canada we may have an easier time with the idea of a king than in my country of origin where there is no monarchy. On the other hand, our sovereign reigns but doesn’t rule.

    Finally, on a different topic: understanding art. When an aesthetics professor was giving a public lecture on “how to view a work of art,” he asked, “What do YOU see in this altarpiece?” One person said, “Well, it looks like the people in those days didn’t know how to dock a sheep’s tail.”


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