Lest we forget

Anzac PosterGoing to the Anzac Day Dawn service was an important tradition for my family as I grew up. My grandfather (Dad’s father) fought on the Malayan Peninsula and was one of the many soldiers imprisoned after the fall of Singapore in the notorious Changi prison. He grew vegetables for the other prisoners, and had his back broken (or badly damaged) with the butt of a rifle. That’s all I know. He died when I was about 12 years old. I don’t think he talked much about that time with my father. He always had a stooped back.

Going along to the Anzac ceremony was a time to remember that struggle, the suffering of those men. My father would wear his father’s medals. I think I may have worn them once or twice. It connected us with a man that I didn’t really know.

I remember walking together with Dad and our family to the Canberra Dawn service a couple of years ago.
The air at that time of morning feels like it can lift the skin from your face. The altitude and lack of humidity make the stars dance. Around you everything is dark. There is a great crowd of people walking through this dark. No one talks, except in a whisper. You walk together and join the crowd of thousands standing silently in the dark.
I can’t remember the exact details of the service from year to year.
Last AnzacWe hear the same words every year.
The bugler standing above us on the wall of the War Memorial plays the Last Post. We remember our mates who didn’t come home that day. We even remember when we have nothing to remember. Some of us remember that we have no stories – there was nothing that happened in those days that could ever be spoken about.
We hear the ode, the words proclaiming the immortality of those who died, ‘age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.’
We make the pledge, ‘lest we forget’.
The dawn touches the face of the bugler and the Reveille rings out – the call to rise for another day of carnage in which some men will see nobility, and others will see the face of God.

Anzac Day is an observance worth remembering.
As a National observance it skirts twin dangers. On the one hand, from being trivialised into a jingoistic celebration of national identity – talking up ‘Australian Values’ and ignoring the warning in the phrase, ‘Lest we forget’.
And on the other, from being over solemnised – a rosy tint cast over the events which ignores our responsibility to remember, by distorting the memories.

The duty to remember is the one great obligation placed upon us by those who have gone into the past. It’s the final wisdom and warning from those who are no longer with us to speak. There is a moral dimension to memory which is at the heart of any National memorial.

For the Christian, we must remember that our citizenship is in heaven. We seek the welfare of this society, but our national memorial is the breaking of bread and the sharing of a cup.

As Australia has become an increasingly ‘post-Christian’ nation, Anzac has become steadily more ‘sacred’. Although the numbers of the original veterans continually diminish, there has been a steady increase in the number of people attending the dawn services. Australian secular society still experiences an irrepressible desire for experience of ‘feeling the sacred.’ I suppose its an experience of feeling connected to something larger than you are, something transcendant. Secular society cuts people off from any connection with God. Morality is framed in terms of values that will benefit the national or household economy. Human purpose is articulated in purely material terms. For beings created to know God this creates a situation of terrible spiritual hunger.

And so, Anzac Day becomes more and more important as a ‘spiritual’ experience. Increasing numbers of young people are undertaking pilgrimage to Anzac Cove in Turkey. The Anzac Dawn service is a Christian service forced into the service of a humanist religion. The language and even theology of Easter has been transplanted onto Anzac Day – note the language of substitution and sacrifice that has been appropriated to talk about the actions of those soldiers.

Anzac Day needs to be reclaimed for Australians! (How’s that for a jingoistic phrase). It matters because we have an important duty to remember – one that those who fought and suffered during those years bound us to undertake. It matters because remembering the past is the key to understanding the future.

But for Christians, travelling through this country, Anzac Day is not really our Day.

We observe a different memorial in the Kingdom of Heaven.
There was a battle that was fought for our freedom;
There was catastrophic suffering that shaped our identity;
There was victory and vindication.
And Jesus Christ is Lord.

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: on the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
In the same way |He| also |took| the cup, after supper, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (1Cor 11:23-26 HCSB)

Lest we forget

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2 thoughts on “Lest we forget

  1. Dan,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this topic. I was working today at the War Memorial (as I have for the last few years) and I must say that the whole ANZAC thing is certainly changing. It is now almost a creed by which your commitment to Australian values is judged.

    I used to think it was a glorification of war but I think you are closer to the point with the easter analogy. It is almost a cult of death – the soldiers' sacrifical death. I find the Hall of Memory and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is facinating. The symbolism in the room is a mix of pagan and christian symbols of sacrifice, civic and personal values, and a fuzzy idea of a universal afterlife for those who die in war.

    For those of us who have relatives who died in time of war, often in the prime of youth, I think it is good to remember them and for the nation to honour their memory as well. But for Christians all this has to make us uneasy. There has to be limits. Jesus Christ is all the saviour we need!

    But what an opportunity! As anyone who has ever lived in a county town will know ANZAC Day is one of the only times when the local minister is asked speak to the whole town – when people will sing hymns together and stand quietly and think about death and eternity.

    Certainly somthing to think about…

    John

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  2. Thanks John,
    that's a really insightful comment – particularly coming from someone who's in the thick of it at the moment. I've always found the Hall of Memories at the War Memorial to be a little disturbing. The mosaics and stained glass windows with military figures in place of saints. It was looking at this a few years ago that really started me thinking these things through.
    You're right about the opportunities. I think that it is an aspect of our culture that still connects with many important Christian truths in a way that has been almost universally lost throughout the rest of the year. How often is self-sacrifice listed as a virtue in our culture anymore?

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