Homily for ANZAC Day (2005)

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2010 at 8:45 am

Delivered at St Paul’s Cathedral, Dunedin, 2005

Ninety years ago today
soldiers from the Australia New Zealand Army Corp
landed on an obscure peninsula in modern-day Turkey.

It was to be the thrust that outflanked the Central Powers,
lost them an ally
and shortened the War.

It became
the crucible in which our two nations’ sense of distinct identity was forged,
amidst the carnage and the courage of Gallipoli.

That is the myth of the ANZAC landings,
and like all myths, it is not without a degree of ultimate truth.

The experience of that first ANZAC Day
and the weeks and months that followed
have left an indelible imprint upon the national psyche,
and there is probably not a town in New Zealand with a pub and a church
that doesn’t have its memorial, its monument
to those who served, and fell, in the Great War, 1914-1918.

The language of the age was that of sacrifice and service.
Language that was the Church’s also.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

The experience of modern warfare though
was also a profound challenge to notions of leadership, loyalty and justice,
both secular and sacred,
as young men died in unparalleled number:
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row…” …on row, on row…
Another poet, Donald Bain, wrote,
“It may be that our later selves or else our unborn sons
will search for meaning in the dust of long deserted guns…”

And this is part of the ANZAC legacy:
The further removed we are in time from the events themselves,
the more we seek to make meaning of this commemoration.

I am privileged to be one of a generation that has not known major conflict.
That I owe in some very real sense
to those who bodies lie or whose lives were forever changed
on the beaches of Gallipoli, the fields of Flanders, of El Alamein, of Cassino…

But I and we all know that “The war to end all war”
was not to bring about that aim:

90 years ago New Zealand forces landed at Gallipoli.
60 years ago on ANZAC Day,
New Zealand forces crossed the River Po in Northern Italy.
30 years ago, there were still New Zealand military and civilian personal
providing humanitarian and diplomatic support
during the last days of the Vietnam conflict.

War has a habit of impinging upon our present,
particularly if we neither know our history
nor actively work to prevent it.

The church has always struggled with war,
how to respond to it, whether it can be justified, how it is to be conducted.
We all struggle when our ideal is set alongside our reality.
I think most people of faith are conflicted
when it comes to war.
Is a ‘just war’ to be denied when faced with an unjust peace?
Yet, conflicted though we may be, we live in a critical time,
when some of the rules of engagement, ideologically and practically,
are in effect being reshaped.
Today we face the global challenges of terrorism, imperialism,
intercultural and interfaith dialogue,
…and New Zealand forces are still on the ground, involved,
keeping and making peace.

In such a setting, we have a right and a responsibility to ensure
that the political and personal whims
of the world’s leaders – and those narrow groups they often represent –
in their brief tenure do not diminish or distract
from the lessons learned and freedoms gained
in past sacrifice and service.

Lest we forget…  That war itself ultimately represents failure.

A failure of imagination.

A profound failure of will and of recognition
of our common humanity and need.
Which is not to deny that wars have been fought in the name of justice,
and in honour, and in hope, and with morality and heroism.
But the failure of the world’s leaders and societies
to find a different way to resolve differences,
or indeed the emergence of the kind of evil that is seen in those cruel acts
that lead us to war – that draw us in in defence of ourselves or others –
this is human failure.

If we are to honour those whom we remember today,
we must become active in the cause of peace,
as have many who did not bear arms,
but in their own way, and at great cost, risked and endured much.
Peace is not secured alone
by the sacrifice and service of those who have given much,
even all, of themselves in struggle and solidarity.

Peace relies upon our commitment to remember
the price that has been paid for our present.

It has been said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
…Not the paranoia that looks on all the outside world as a threat,
but a willingness to hold a light up to ourselves and our friends,
and even sometimes our own history.

Peace relies on our willingness
to speak and to work in the cause of justice,
and it takes root where our women and men in uniform
put themselves on the line as keepers of peace.

Peace means we look towards and we live
in a way that does not deprive others,
does not conspire to draw us into violence,
whether that be actual, economic, environmental, ideological…

Deep down we know that a peace which is merely the absence of war
is a peace waiting to be interrupted.
…Is no peace at all, …merely a lull in hostilities.

That is not the peace to honour our Fallen or those who served.
Not the peace to honour the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, fiances
whose lives were ever altered.
Not the peace to honour our national experience and identity.
Not the peace to honour our God.
Not the peace to honour our humanity.

The vision of heaven we heard from the Book of Revelation
looks to a world without conflict, tears or pain,
a world where we can take our humanity as a sharing in divinity,
recognising that God chooses to be found in our midst,
witness to our courage and our compassion:
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

The world is, as it were,
open to the possibility that we might bring to it:
old enmities and current stand-offs can be ended,
justice can take root,
we can move beyond the former things,
towards a vision of a common, co-existent and rich human life
that builds upon those foundations,
and all that we celebrate this day.

That will need from us, sacrifice and service.

May we be ready to respond to such an invitation.  Amen.


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