Jesus is the Migrant King. Tonight at 5pm on BBC1 Songs of Praise will be broadcast featuring the makeshift Church at Calais on the migrant camp. Occasionally someone will do a radical thing. The usual accepted ‘British’ policy is to reign them in quickly until they cave in and conform. Alternatively, if you read the comment sections from a number of right wing newspapers, you spout abuse loudly until no-one else can be heard!
However it seems to be the season for doing radical things and I’ll dwell on two which are related. In reality, in the great scheme of things, neither of these are particularly radical, not when contrasted against the Gospel message. They just happen to be topical.
Yesterday was the feast of Mary, Mother of the Migrant King. St. Gwyddelan is remembered this coming Saturday. Both of them migrants for one reason or another. Me too, though not to escape oppression! You may have seen the poster of Paddington Bear with the slogan “Migration is not a crime”. Ex St. Paul’s Cathedral Canon Giles Fraser suggested, following a visit to Calais, that the little Red Book we carry seems of offer privileges to some and denies others freedom depending on an accident of birth. Immigration issues aside, what makes one person so special and another an illegal? If Mary travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem today, would she even be able to make the journey? Escaping into Egypt would be all but impossible.
Is it therefore such a radical thing to do, to hold a church service among migrants? A church which, it is suggested, is no longer relevant, is holding a service among people who are said to be outcasts. Why the fuss? Why does it make the news? Because institutions such as the Church of England or the BBC are expected to be docile. Servants of the people, not questioning actions. But they begin to bite where it hurts when they start to raise questions over such issues, to expose those who would dehumanise others and there are many who would wish them to be silent. Do we really want a tame Christianity? Should it not always call us to reflect on what is important? Call us back towards the path that the migrant Jesus trod?
On the small Island of Iona there is an old burial ground, Reilig Odhráin. The kings of Scotland were buried there. The small stone chapel which sits at the centre is unremarkable yet it and the surrounding graveyard have been a place of pilgrimage for many years and relatively recently to one particular grave. About a year after that funeral, which was attended only by family and close friends, I remember visiting the Island and noticing the steel fence that had been erected around the grave to stop the well wishers and visitors from getting too close. The fear was the newly dug earth might give way under the increased footfall. It is the grave of, arguably, one of the finest politicians – John Smith. He has been described as ‘an honest and decent man’ a Christian man forged in the Church of Scotland. His political mind was incredibly radical as, although he was Labour to the core, he seemed to favour neither party nor next election, but the people. Though he didn’t live to see it his opposition to John Major forged the way for the 1997 victory. I wonder if Jeremy Corbyn will be of a similar ilk? His manifesto seems to suggest that he might. He has attracted interest for being a radical left winger, yet all he seems to have done is say what he believes in, largely ignoring his opponents.
There was once a man who came into the centre of religious and political debate and emptied himself of human pride humbly offering himself for the future of all. Instead of listening to the rhetoric of skilled parliamentarians or to the ranting of gutter press I always try to look and listen out for the individual who has the wherewithal to stand against the flow, to be the humble servant, to acknowledge their own brokenness and to be a voice in a hungry wilderness. Hungry people will listen to anyone who offers them bread, but occasionally amongst the clamour a few true selfless servants speak of the bread of life and they always deserve our support. The thing about Jesus the migrant king that I find truly radical and remarkable is that he was able to be friend of both lowly and powerful. Jesus the Migrant King was able to stand between communities and transcend boundaries that were put up to exclude people. To value both rich and poor and to share radically the gifts of the kingdom. Even Jesus’ own followers found that tough. Will Jeremy Corbyn offer such a tonic to the parliament? Will Songs of Praise in Calais offer a different view? Perhaps, but only if there are those who are willing to spread the radical message of love, reconciliation and common humanity that is at the heart of our Gospel.