Going 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.
We 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.
â€œFor 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, â€œThis is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.â€
In the same way |He| also |took| the cup, after supper, and said, â€œThis cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.â€ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lordâ€™s death until He comes.â€ (1Cor 11:23-26 HCSB)
Lest we forget