A few years ago I heard a friend speak about ANZAC Day surprisingly. He spoke of the way that from the 1950s-1970s barely a soul celebrated the Day and that the hills around Gallipoli were almost always empty of people. He explained that the French lost four times as many soldiers as we did and that the Turks see their victory in 1915 as the successful defence of Islam. But he spoke of more than facts – he called for a deeper analysis of why the ANZAC legend has become so important to Australians.
His contention was that since rejecting Christianity, Australia has been a nation in search of a faith and a story that explains us. One that explains where we came from, who we are and how to live, that gives us a sense of unity and cohesion – a national identity – and that gives us a faith that we can turn to and believe in and use to find strength and courage in times of need. A story that gives us back God or gods who are like us – but are greater than us – and about whom we can only speak of in hushed voices of deep respect and sombre reverence.
The thinking is compelling. Australia emerged from the freewheeling 70s looking for something to hold onto (having excluded the possibility of Jesus) and we found ANZAC. And woe betide anyone who takes the name ANZAC in vain as Woolworths discovered last year!
We have fashioned ANZAC into an idol and a myth that gives Australian life meaning.
None of this takes away from the courageous efforts of our family and friends who served and self-sacrificed for our country at Gallipoli or anywhere else. Rather, identifying this reality, turns ANZAC Day into a moment when you can point people to the Cross.
But not just to a man who gave his life that his countrymen may be free. But a man who gave his life that his enemies might be free. A man who gave his life – and won a great victory – without raising a hand in anger. Indeed, by raising his arms in glad surrender. For the only blood shed that day on the hill of Golgotha was his own.
Most of us will have a day of rest on Monday in recognition of sacrifice. How will you use the day to help those around recognise the greater sacrifice of Jesus?