I love the pageantry and ritual of Anzac Day. As a child, my siblings and I were glued to the television as we watched the Anzac Day March from start to finish. This was probably due to the fact that my father was a musician in one of the military bands and if we watched closely enough we would catch glimpses of him as the band accompanied marchers along the parade route. However, as I got older, my interest in ‘war history’ has seen me visit the D-Day beaches of France, the concentration camps of Poland and Germany and the WW1 battle fields of Verdun and Ypres. I have a deep interest and respect for the men and women who have experienced, and lived through the horrors of war.
So, I have watched with interest, the resurgence in our civic pride when it comes to Anzac Day. Recent anniversaries have brought an even greater sense of occasion and solemnity to the whole day. It has become the nation’s religion. The Webster Dictionary defines religion as “a cause, principle, system of tenets held with ardour, devotion, conscientiousness and faith, a value to be held of supreme importance.” In many ways, Anzac Day embodies values of courage, sacrifice and mateship that are supremely important to Australians and conscientiously held and protected in the civic rituals now associated with Anzac Day. The laying of wreaths, the religious liturgies, the early-morning breakfasts, the emblems and banners and even the ‘pilgrimage’ to Anzac Cove in Turkey, all echo or mirror the rituals and practices of religious groups.
Christians, and Christian Schools, should be in the business of ‘shaping and transforming culture’. The verses from Romans 12, as paraphrased in The Message are thought-provoking. “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God.”
So as Christians, what are we to make of Anzac Day? I think there are three possible options.
Some Christians would see Anzac Day as verging on idolatry. They would see the renewed interest in the quasi-religious nature of Anzac Day as a sad reflection about the decline of Christian faith in Australia. Some would even argue that it is the sinful glorification of war that needs to be resisted.
On the other hand, some Christians would see it as a celebration of human virtue over adversity; courage, community and sacrifice all come to the fore and remind us that Godly virtues overcome evil. The prevalence of hymns, scripture readings and prayers offer an opportunity for this civic ritual to take on religious meaning.
However, I believe we can ‘redeem’ Anzac Day and use it for God’s purposes. As we fix our attention on God, perhaps we can see how Anzac Day can be used to point to the truths of the Kingdom and how Christ is the complete answer to our culture’s need for a sacrificing hero.
The acts of courage and sacrifice of thousands of people is not mere mythology, but a true fact. As a result, we should show respect, honour and gratitude. But perhaps in recognising and celebrating that “greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends”, we can point to the ultimate sacrifice in Christ. Anzac Day provides the opportunity to not only say ‘lest we forget’ our fallen soldiers, but more importantly, let’s not forget the One who, through His ultimate sacrifice, will bring lasting peace and harmony to this world. I am reminded of an old hymn that says,
Lest I forget Gethsemane,
Lest I forget Thine agony,
Lest I forget Thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.
The act and language of sacrifice is one that our Australian culture respects and understands. Perhaps it opens the door for dialogue at this time of the year, when Anzac Day follows so closely on the heels of Easter; a time when Christians around the world have reflected on the amazing grace that comes through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
As with all cultural practices, it is the job of Christians to applaud what is true, identify the limitations of what is, and see how all things come to completion and redemption in Christ. It is not in lauding the sacrifice of others that we will find our identity as individuals, or as a nation. It will only be in acknowledging the ultimate sacrifice of Christ that we will discover our true identity as citizens of God’s Kingdom.
Lest we forget!