The celebration of ANZAC Day elicits a wide variety of responses in the christian community. With the day’s focus on the wars we have fought, and those whose lives were lost in their waging, two sides emerge: which are very difficult to hold in balance. The recent invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq cause a continuing angst amongst many in our community. What are we to make of ANZAC day, in the light of the Jesus’ teachings and the Easter story?
The picture of sacrifice which is integral to commemorations is one which is central to the message which Jesus proclaimed: Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends. In the willingness of the thousands of young men who have died in wars, we find a practical expression of this call. These men laid down their lives in the quest for peace. Their families still bear the pain of it, and live under the impact of such sacrifice. To die in order to save others is the most noble of all acts.
On the other hand, we know that the greatest cost of war is born by the poorest of people. While we recognise the appropriateness of taking up arms to defend, the tendency in recent years is to justify aggressive and pre-emptive acts as being defensive. The result is that we have seen attempts to use war as a vehicle for imposing views on unwilling people. We too easily demonise and dehumanize the “opposition”. War is to be lamented, rather than celebrated. It ought to be entertained only as a last resort, when all other avenues have been exhausted.
The settlement of disagreements through resort to violence is an admission that our arguments and our lives are insufficient. To utilise force to remove even the most violent dictator is to reinforce the notion that might is right, and the mightier we are, the more correct we are. It is a dangerous pathway to walk.
In stark contrast, Jesus eschewed the way of violence. He went to the cross in passive, yet disarming surrender. He lived his teaching about turning the other cheek, offering your cloak and going the second mile, and inevitably disarmed the powers arrayed against him. Our continuing skepticism about the effectiveness of such methods in the present era says much about our belief in the ways of Jesus.
ANZAC Day is a reminder of the cost of war, and of its inability to settle the substance of a dispute. When articulating the disputes of an early christian community, Paul wrote the words “…and still I will show you a better way” What follows is the greatest passage on love ever written. Lest we forget.
April 17, 2005