Mary 23 – Queen of Heaven

Mary, Queen of Heaven

I thought it would be fitting to close my series on Mary with a reflection on her title as Queen of Heaven. I know from experience that many of my fellow Protestant Christians find that appellation disturbing, though I’m not sure if it’s for theological reasons or because of our American discomfort with monarchical titles. In order to understand this title for Mary, we have to first look at Christ and specifically his Ascension.

To be honest, it’s not clear to me what the typical modern Evangelical thinks or believes about the Ascension of Christ. Sometimes I almost get the sense that they have a vision of Jesus as some cosmic spacemen flying off into outer space. But that’s certainly not what the Scriptures of Christian tradition are describing. When someone was crowned king or emperor, they ascended to their throne, which means they entered into their power. That’s what we see happening with Christ, but he was not ascending to a typical throne. Rather, he was ascending to the throne of God, to the seat of power in the Kingdom of the Heavens (which is to say God’s Kingdom).

And that’s where the “clouds” enter into the picture. Smoke or clouds were associated with the visible presence of God in Hebrew imagery. When God led the Israelites out of Egypt in the desert, he did so as a pillar of clouds. When the shekinah glory of God entered and rested upon the first temple, it did so as smoke. When Isaiah enters the presence of God in visions, he is surrounded by clouds and smoke. And so when Jesus ascends into the clouds, it’s a way of saying he is entering his power and taking the throne of heaven. Heaven, of course, is overlapping and interlocking with the material creation, but it is presently veiled from us, so as Jesus enters his power, he vanishes from their sight. But he didn’t leave and go someplace else. As we read in Matthew, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” And sometimes that veil is pulled back. Stephen, the protomartyr saw the throne of God at the time of his death. Paul experienced the reality of the third heaven.

So Jesus the Christ, Son of God, is in Christian terms, the reigning King of heaven and earth. In Hebrew culture, going back at least to the time of the Davidic kings, who is the queen? It’s the king’s mother, also called the queen mother. In fact, that’s true in many cultures. In England, the mother of the monarch is even affectionately called the Queen Mum.

So Mary is rightly called the Queen of Heaven because her son is the reigning King of Heaven. Of all her titles, this should be one on which every Christian can agree. If we deny her the title of queen mother, we deny her son as king.

Now, as the Queen of Heaven, what does Mary do? She does what she has always done, which we see exemplified in the story of the wedding at Cana in John 2. She points to her son and commands us all, “Whatever he says to you, do it.”

Are not those the words we all need to hear?

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2 Comments

  1. Rachel
    Posted March 4, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    If I remember correctly from my protestant upbringing, the discomfort with the title queen of heaven comes from Jeremiah 7:18-20. In that passage God condemns the Israelites for worshiping other gods, specifically mentioning, “making cakes to the Queen of Heaven,” as a sin deserving his wrath. It appears that the worship of the queen of heaven pre-dates Christianity (not surprising) and to call the woman who bore Christ by the name of a god, the worship of which evoked God’s wrath makes them uncomfortable.

  2. Posted March 4, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    I’m familiar with the reference, but I find it an odd thing on which to pin discomfort. (And I actually hadn’t ever heard that raised as an objection to the title, so thanks for the contribution.) Many ancient pagan gods misappropriated a lot of titles and roles. In fact, it seems like pointing out that misappropriation and distortion is at least part of the point of the two Genesis creation narratives.

    More importantly, as Christians we need to read the Old Testament in light of Christ, not picking random bits and pieces out of it to build our own construct. I’m pretty sure most Christians agree that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. (That is, after all, what Christ means in Greek.) And that means, among many other things, that he is the prophesied culmination of the line of Davidic kings. He is a King not just of one nation, but of all the nations. Moreover, he is enthroned in heaven (which is a way of say the dimension of our reality in which God is not veiled at all) and we would assert that he is King of Heaven and Earth right now. (At least, I think we all agree that’s what the ascension tells us as well as much of the New Testament.)

    So, if that’s true, then the correct Old Testament question would be to ask a relatively simple question, “What title were the mothers of the reigning Davidic kings given?” And they were called queen. And since Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the reigning King of Heaven, an appropriate title for Mary must be Queen of Heaven.

    That strikes me as a much more appropriate way to read the Old Testament in light of Christ than objecting on the basis of a random, unrelated text concerning God’s reaction to the worship by his people of an ancient pagan deity who happened to be called by a similar title. Lots of ancient male gods were called various forms of ‘ruler of the heavens’ (king, emperor, etc.). Should we strip Jesus of his proper title because it has often been misapplied in the past? That conclusion makes about as much sense to me as the one you described regarding Mary’s title.

    Jesus is now the eternally reigning Davidic king. His mother is therefore queen as all the living mothers of such reigning kings were titled. I’m not sure I see how we can deny the one without denying both.

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