Sacrifice, Courage, Commitment, Honour – these are words which we traditionally associate with our ANZAC tradition. We remember men who left the comfort of home in order to confront and repel a threat to our security. Many paid the ultimate price, and as a result, so did their families, growing up without fathers, raising families without husbands. In the sacrifice of these men we find the truth of Jesus’ words “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends.” These men were truly friends to us, fighting a battle which was not of their choosing, but doing so for a greater purpose.
It is fitting that the ANZAC tradition is born of an action which could only be described as a slaughter. It is not rooted in the demolition of a weaker enemy by a stronger and more numerous force. Instead, the birthplace of the ANZAC, Gallipoli, is the story of slaughter: men climbing out of trenches into certain death. That the battle epitomised the spirit of sacrifice is evident. Though the slaughter itself in isolation seemed needless, it helped turn the war.
We can think of other such acts, not born of “formal” warfare, which were no less heroic. Thousands of black South African men, women and children who died in the pursuit of equality represent these same qualities. We can find similar commitment and honour amongst the people East Timor. Amongst refugees to our own shores we can hear stories of courage, honour and commitment in the pursuit of freedom for a people: Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, Somalis, Rwandans. We remember Ang San Suu Kyi and the struggle of her people in Myanmar (Burma). Some names are known to us… emblems of honourable quality of humanity. But many remain anonymous. For character to be defined in such terms does not require publicity: it is not born of fame, but of something deep within.
In many ways, the stories of these people retell the gospel of Jesus; they embody the cross in their actions inasmuch as they considered the lives of others to be more important than their own.
But the disturbing element of the gospel story is this: when Jesus was presented with the opportunity to take up arms to defend himself and his kingdom, he chose not to. There is something about belief in the cross and resurrection which challenges these notions of courage and sacrifice to a new level.
Lest We Forget.
April 25, 2004