In June 2015, the 230 congregations of the Roman Catholic diocese of Cologne, Germany, rang a bell peal of 100 bells each. That was 23,000 peals. The last one was “Fat Peter,” the largest bell in the Cologne Cathedral. It is rung only when the archbishop or the Pope dies.
“This was a death peal,” said the Rev. James Walters. “Remembering the 23,000 people who have drowned since the year 2000 crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe. They were pursuing a better life, and the Mediterranean separates the rich of Europe from the poor of Africa.”
Walters preached at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “The Cold Coming to Europe” a reference to the first line of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Journey of the Magi.” The text was Matthew 2:9-15, which grapples with the appearance of the Magi and the Flight of the Holy Family.
Cologne Cathedral contains the shrine of the Three Holy Kings, the Magi, whose relics were brought there in 1164. The cathedral became a major pilgrimage site.
“Some of you may be skeptical,” Walters said. “As John Calvin said, there are enough relics of the true cross to rebuild Noah’s Ark. But the relics inscribed the narrative of the Gospel into Europe just as pilgrimages and the Stations of the Cross brought the story of Jesus home to people who lived there. Cologne is Matthew, Chapter 2.”
The Magi were migrants and we only assume that they were wealthy, Walters said.
“We assume they were the cosmopolitan elite, the kind we don’t give the name ‘migrant’ to, but these were wise men — not kings,” he said. “We assume that they could easily afford the gifts they brought, but they might have been once-in-a-lifetime gifts.”
We don’t know what kind of migrants they were, what obstacles they faced, Walters said.
T.S. Eliot in “Journey of the Magi,” wrote, “A cold coming we had of it. The night-fires went out. The cities were hostile.”
“ ‘A hard time we had of it,’ ” Walters said. “A hard time we had of it.”
Like the 232 million people across the world who are migrants. Before the fall of Libya and the Arab Spring, the number of people migrating was declining but since the fall of Libya there were 63,000 refugees in Greece and 62,000 in Italy, Walters said. Over 2,000 have died this year alone.
The migration of the Magi is just the warm up for the other migration in Matthew, he said.
“The first experience of Jesus Christ himself was to flee to another country with his mother and father,” Walters said. “The Holy Family began life together as refugees. I seriously question how Christian people think about refugees.”
A columnist in The Sun newspaper in Britain wrote that migrants were like cockroaches. Walters reminded the congregation that the Nazis were the first to brand people as cockroaches.
“People say that the Church of England in London is growing only because of immigration — as if brown Christians don’t matter as much as white Christians,” he said. “The Three Wise Men were migrants. Jesus Christ was a migrant. These migrants are not just boosters for declining congregations. Those with no home, who have left family behind, find a home in the body of Christ. It is the responsibility of the church fellowship to let them know they are welcome and afford them the dignity they deserve.”
Europe had no right to be unwelcoming to those who want to enjoy what Europeans have, because Europe was complicit in causing the conditions people are fleeing, Walters said.
“The bells were a powerful symbol of our Christian heritage,” he said. “The great God of heaven becomes a migrant in the arms of a refugee mother.”
The Rev. James Hubbard presided. Mary Ellen Kimble, who is celebrating her 40th consecutive year with the Motet Choir, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the Motet Choir. The choir sang “Thou O Lord” by Knut Nystedt. The Alison and Craig Marthinsen Endowment for the Department of Religion provides support for this week’s services.