Each year, much of Australia gathers around Australia in religious ceremonies to observe Anzac Day – a day which is increasing described as the most sacred day in our national calendar. Even for those who don’t normally participate in the worship life of a church, Anzac Day is the day where many will gather in reverent public rituals or liturgies at shrines, memorials and monuments in every town and municipality across the country. Even in the time of covid, people are encouraged to still honour Anzac Day by standing in their driveways at dawn with lighted candles in remembrance.
What is it about this day that makes it ‘sacred’? What do the public mean when they speak of some of the larger memorials as ‘shrines’? Why does the sacrifice of men and women in wars often draw on readings like the one we have here from John (and especially John 15:3 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”), describing their death in very similar ways to the way the death and sacrifice of Jesus is described? In an increasingly secular and atheistic society, why do more and more people – particularly young people – gather each year at these special religious services?
Clearly, somewhere aong the way Jesus’ death and resurrection was related to the meaning of the sacrifice of young lives in war. It was, after all, the death and resurrection of Jesus that made it possible to see any hope at all in the mass slaughter of young men. In Jesus’ sacrificial act on Calvary, and his subsequent resurrection, we see the groundwork for the belief that those who had died defending others would still live on, and their memories would continue to be honoured.
One of the challenges the church has regarding Anzac Day is how we meet our communities as they attend religious ceremonies and mourn the sacrificial dead. Can we participate in honouring the fallen without betraying the gospel of the Prince of Peace? Does Anzac Day provide us with a bridge into the secular community?
Honouring the fallen does not require us to swallow the propaganda of war. We can honour the fallen and acknowledge their sacrifice without having to support the system that sacrificed them.
We can honour the memory of those who have been sacrificed in war without having to endorse either the ideologies that they were sacrificed to defend, or the actions by which they defended them. We can honour the fallen while allowing their memory to raise pertinent questions about the powers that were prepared to sacrifice them.
Without resorting to violence, Jesus confronted, challenged and resisted empire to such an extent that they had to sacrifice him to protect their various interests. He proclaimed love for neighbour and enemy. When God raised him from the dead and he returned, he appeared to speak powerful words of reconciliation, love, peace and forgiveness.
Perhaps on subsequent Anzac Days, at the rising of the sun, and at its going down, we should remember the victims of war sacrificed to earthly empires, and remember all those who have become victims of the corruption, madness and greed that characterises our world. As the people of God, we should stand with all of the victims of war and oppression and with all those who have been sacrificed down through the ages. And we should bear witness along with them that the powers of corruption and death can be defeated by the power of love and life, through words of reconciliation, love, peace and forgiveness, spoken not just to our friends, but to our enemies as well. Perhaps then can peace be a real possibility in our world.
This poignant prayer, In A Minute’s Silence, was written by Rev. Jon Humphries. It encourages us to reflect on sacrifice, compassion for others and the desperate need for world peace.
Christ of the Cross,
Spirit of Peace,
In a minute’s silence take us into compassion and understanding.
In a minute’s silence may we find ourselves
almost walking in the shoes of those we remember.
In a minute’s silence may we seek the joys
that sustained them in the trials that they faced.
In a minute’s silence may we find the courage
that empowered them in the suffering they endured.
In a minute’s silence may we be inspired to love like the sacrifice that they made.
In a minute’s silence may we comprehend
the ripples of pain that bounce around the world in response to such disturbance.
In a minute’s silence may we learn
the lessons which will lead to such things never occurring again.
In a minute’s silence may we decide to be better in ourselves,
that the world may be better with us in it.
In a minute’s silence may the world change for the better.
In a minute’s silence may all this be so.
In a minute’s silence we pray.