The ANZAC Day Phenomena
Amidst all the anti-war sentiment of the Vietnam War, it looked like ANZAC Day was on its way out. Now attendance is at an all-time high. It’s importance as a national day of identity and reflection even rivals Australia Day.
Despite terrorist threats, young and old Aussies will shiver at ANZAC Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula on ANZAC Day to watch the sunrise.
Back home in Australia and New Zealand, ANZAC Day commemorations are held each year in virtually every suburb and town. In attendance are a dwindling number of veterans and hundreds of thousands of contemplative men, women, youth and children — many proudly wearing the war medals of their forefathers.
The resurgence of ANZAC Day is truly a modern-day phenomena. But is ANZAC Day here to stay or is this just another passing social fad?
A Solemn Celebration
Observed on 25 April each year, ANZAC Day honours the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli against the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
It was at 4:28am on Sunday 25 April, 1915 that the first of the 16,000 soldiers of the ANZAC force landed at Gallipoli. By the end of the day 2,000 had either been killed or wounded. This news made a profound impact on Australians and New Zealanders at home. By the next year, 25 April became the day to remember the sacrifice of those who died in war.
Today, ANZAC Day commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in all wars and peacekeeping operations as well as the contribution and suffering of all others who have served. ANZAC Day does not set out to glorify war. It’s a solemn remembrance and celebration of what’s good about being Australian – the freedoms and way of life that we enjoy and value so greatly.
The ANZAC Legend
Though the Gallipoli campaign failed to achieve its military objectives of capturing Constantinople and knocking the Ottoman empire out of the war, the actions of the Aussie and Kiwi diggers bequeathed an intangible yet powerful legacy. What became known as the ‘ANZAC Legend’ is foundational to our identity and values — things like mateship, courage, sacrifice, never giving up, supporting the underdog and a sense of humour when facing adversity.
Today, more and more young Australians want to know how we arrived at the values that are an integral part of being an Aussie. Nothing, it seems, resonates more with them than the authentic ANZAC stories of mateship and self-sacrifice.
Greater Love Hath No Man
Leaving behind families, homes and dreams, young men risked death on the beaches and cliffs of Gallipoli for one another and for their country. They died out of love for their families. They died for freedom so that we wouldn’t have to live under tyranny.
The fact that the ANZACs were willing to lay down their lives is a reflection of how the Judeo-Christian belief system had influenced our society.
In the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, you will find a framed, sunken marble stone with an inscription sitting in a carefully positioned place on the floor. The words “Greater Love Hath No Man” are taken from the words of Jesus to His followers “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). But it was Jesus Himself who gave us the supreme example of love and self-sacrifice. How amazing that the Son of God should die for us a painful and humiliating death on a cross. By shedding His blood for the sin of all mankind, He rescued all those who would believe in Him from sin, Satan and death. By laying down His life, He made it possible for us to escape the horror of hell and receive everlasting life.
Because evil exists, good men need to follow the example of Jesus and stand against it. This willingness to sacrifice on behalf of others is why military service is considered such a high calling for Christians. According to theologians, it’s what makes so-called ‘just wars’ just. Thomas Aquinas discusses ‘just war’ in his chapter on the love of God and love of neighbour. John Calvin called soldiering a “God-like act,” because “it imitates God’s restraining evil out of love for His creatures.”
Hymns of Remembrance
On ANZAC Day 1931, former Army Chaplain Padre Arthur White led a small pilgrimage to the top of Mt Clarence near Albany, Western Australia. They overlooked the embarkation point for the 30,000 Australian soldiers who headed off to Gallipoli in late 1914. And so began what is claimed to be the first organised ANZAC Day dawn service.
Today we sing hymns at ANZAC Day dawn services including O God Our Help in Ages Past, Abide With Me, O Valiant Hearts and The Recessional with its poignant chorus “Lest We Forget”. These echo a hymn found in the Bible that was sung by the early Christians. In remembrance of Jesus they sang “who, being in very nature God… made himself nothing… being made in human likeness … he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).
Jesus the Son of God left the glories of Heaven “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). Willingly, He came to earth as a human being to suffer and die so that we might live. On ANZAC Day, we remember all those who have laid down their lives in defense of Australia. But as we do, let us always remember Jesus “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) who went before them. Lest we forget.
Father God, thank You for sending Your Son Jesus to earth to rescue a lost humanity from sin, Satan and death. Thank you for His words that “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. Use ANZAC Day as a means to communicate Your love to every Australian, especially the youth and future generations. We pray that those who are trying to secularise ANZAC Day will awaken to the importance of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus which gives it meaning. As a nation, help us to do everything possible to avoid war but help us to guard our legacy of freedom. Help us not to shirk our responsibility to stand against evil and tyranny in the world today. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.