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Fourth Sunday of Easter, St Mark and ANZAC Day

Today is Sunday, the Day when the church remembers Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. It is also St Mark’s day when we remember the writer of the shortest Gospel. And it is also ANZAC Day which is also a time for remembering.

It is hard to remember something which happened before you were born. I don’t think that there are any original Anzacs left. My mother, who is 95, was sixteen days old on the first Anzac Day, too young to remember anything much. Historians and soldiers, politicians, journalists and archaeologists have all written books about ANZAC trying to remember and to work out what it’s all about.

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and it refers to the 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders who were part of a larger British force which set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. The ultimate objective was to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey), the capital of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany.

The ANZACs landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula at dawn on the 25th April and found they had been landed in the wrong place. They were told to expect a flat beach and few enemy. Instead they faced steep cliffs and a Turkish army determined to defend their homeland.. Around 20,000 soldiers landed on the beach over the next two days. Thousands of Australian and New Zealand men died in the hours and days that followed the landing at that beach. They were there for 8 months without making any progress. The ANZACs were evacuated on 20 December 1915. By then, 8,141 had been killed or died of wounds and more than 18,000 had been wounded. Among the dead were 2721 New Zealanders, almost one in four of those who served on Gallipoli.

It was a military disaster and a human tragedy caused by human error and arrogance.

A year later, some of the survivors met to remember their fallen comrades and to recall their experiences, both good and bad. So, year after year, ANZAC day is remembered.

But of course each new generation remembers ANZAC day in a different way. The earliest memorials and honour boards often had, “For God, King and Empire” inscribed on them. Even before the first anniversary of ANZAC, people were using Jesus’ words, “No man hath greater love than this than to lay down his life for his friends.” to describe the young people who had been killed.

Those words are from John’s Gospel and John’s gospel was possibly written about 95 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. All those who had known Jesus were now dead. That’s why the gospel was written, so that people would remember and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this they may have eternal life. John’s gospel is about a victorious Christ who has been given the power to lay down his life and to take it up again. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is always in control. On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished!” and gave up his spirit. In those early commemorations of ANZAC, the young soldiers chose to give their lives for their God, their King and his Empire. They made, so it was said, the supreme sacrifice.

But there is another way of looking at ANZAC. My generation are the children of survivors of the second world war, and many of us hated ANZAC day. For some, ANZAC day meant seeing old soldiers getting outrageously drunk and hearing pompous speeches about “our glorious dead”. We have lived through the Vietnam War and many were conscripted and were sent against their will. The war was unpopular and returned Vietnam Veterans were often treated shamefully. There was no talk of dying for your country, no talk of making the supreme sacrifice.

We could compare my generation to the generation of St Mark, who we remember today, the Mark who wrote the second Gospel, although it is probably the oldest. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is not the willing sacrifice. In Gethsemane sudden fear came over him and distress. He prays, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me.” And it is Mark’s gospel, not John’s that we hear Jesus cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For people who hear Jesus’ cry of despair, ANZAC recalls the futility, waste and stupidity of war

Nowadays ANZAC day is more popular than ever and people are remembering it in a different way. John Howard and Kevin Rudd have both said that the ANZAC spirit is the spirit of Australia. Mateship, a contempt for authority and giving each other a fair go seem to be part of it. In a religious magazine I read that Melbourne Storm have betrayed the Australian spirit of egalitarianism. What they have done is an offence against one of the values that Australians hold so dear, especially at Anzac Day: a fair go. There are some young people who have never known war and the death, so they have do not understand that part. ANZAC for them is a reminder of the Spirit of Australia, mateship, larrikinism, freedom of spirit and equality. ANZAC can be a time to remember all the good things about life in Australia and how precious they are.

Unhappily, ANZAC Day can also be a time when a dangerous form of nationalism runs riot. Patriotism is love and affection for one’s country and is good. I compare it with nationalism which says, “My country’s better than yours and if you don’t agree I’ll knock your head off.” This attitude has nothing to do with ANZAC or patriotism. In fact is the very opposite of what ANZAC is about.

Maybe this could be what ANZAC is about. For many people, especially those who actually make the journey to Gallipoli and keep clear of the crowds, it is a time to remember that those who died were people, with relatives and friends in Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Turkey. The bones that turn up from time to time once spoke and laughed and loved and cried. There are British, Australian, New Zealand, Turkish and other nationalities there in the bones. Seeing them together we may remember that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. Maybe the mingled bones of Gallipoli can remind us that forgiveness and reconciliation are the purposes of giving oneself for one’s friends.

Mustafa Kemal, one of the Turkish commanders of the defence of Gallipoli and later one of the founders of modern Turkey met the first group of British, Australians and New Zealanders to visit the Gallipoli battlefields, in 1934. He said this;

Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives...
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore, rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side,
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries...
Wipe away your tears.
Your sons are now lying in our bosom

And are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land, they have
Become our sons as well.

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