Into what Sacrifice am Invited?

Our celebration of ANZAC reminds us of the undeniable importance of sacrifice.. Something must die, in order that something might live. It is the clarion call of our Easter proclamation as Christians 

25 April 2018 General Interest

Homily: ANZAC DAY
Very Rev David Ranson VG - Holy Name Wahroonga

In every country town of Australia, and in every established suburb of our cities, is to be found a cenotaph. Though derived from England, the cenotaph is an especially Australian icon. Few of us now would know the names inscribed on the columns, but somehow the presence of the monument defines us. Perhaps this is particularly vivid in the presence of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, a civic colossal that somehow captures the soul of the nation.

The cenotaphs that populate all those towns, which in their own way also hold something of the spirit of Australia, speak of the extraordinary sacrifice experienced over a century ago in that War which brings an end to what was an essentially imperial world order and marks the rise of the modern nation- political state. For Australia, this sacrifice which was particularly dramatic, given the population of Australia at the beginning of the 20th century. five million in Australia at that time, 416,809 men
From fewer than enlisted, of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or
taken prisoner. The wave of death swept over family after family, so that no community was not deeply affected by the sense of remarkable loss. The defense of King and country came at a huge price. For my own family, on my father’s side alone, two of my great uncles are buried in the war cemeteries of Belgium, as is another great uncle on my mother’s side in the Somme. The sacrifice was
enormous.

The great mythologies which define a nation, such as the narrative of ANZAC, touch upon elements which lay deep within the social consciousness. For this reason, they continue to speak to people well after their origin. We keep telling them because, even without us fully realizing it, they remind us of
something essential to our sense of identity.

The theme of sacrifice is one that is particularly encapsulated by our annual commemoration.

Sacrifice was certainly part of the experience of the First World War, for all those Australian families struck by grief, and the dissolution of their noble aspirations into a sense of profound loss. The extent
of sacrifice at Gallipoli was staggering: 26,111 Australian casualties, including 8,141 deaths, for a
campaign that had no decisive effect on the outcome of the war.

This year, we recall in a special way the centenary of the battle of Villers-Bretonneux in France, which, unlike the Gallipoli campaign, has been described as a crucial turning point in World War I. On the night of April 24 in 1918, two Australian brigades, along with three British battalions, took part in the counter-attack to stop the German spring offensive. The Australian official war correspondent Charles Bean, who was nearby when the attack happened, wrote in his diary: "I don't believe they have a chance . . . Went to bed thoroughly depressed ... feeling certain that this hurried attack would fail hopelessly.” However, it is reported that the men had a good reason to counter-attack "resolutely." They were aware, it is reported, that it was the third anniversary of the original Anzac Day and they had an opportunity to commemorate it with a special exploit. They overcame the Germans north of the town in a famously irresistible charge. By the dawn of April 25, the Australians had broken through the German entrenchment. And the town did not fall into enemy hands for the rest of WWI.1 Australian troops displayed great bravery, but they also suffered a terrible loss. Some 2,400 Australians died in the battle to recapture the town. The successful resistance, itself, came with enormous sacrifice.

Whether it be in the defeat at Gallipoli or in the success of Villers-Bretonneux, the battles continue to have such power in our memory precisely because of the depth of sacrifice they represent. Sacrifice constitutes something embedded in our Australian consciousness. There is a certain lore of sacrifice that manifests itself even in such events as Peter Weir’s film, “Picnic at Hanging Rock” (1967), or the dreadful Lindy Chamberlain affair at Uluru.

As the poet, Judith Wright observes in “The Upside Down Hut” (1961), “Are all these dead men in our literature, then, a kind of ritual sacrifice? And just what is being sacrificed?” Different commentators have suggested that to live well in this place, something has to be surrendered, something has to be let go of, something has to be sacrificed. Wright herself suggested that, “Is it perhaps the European consciousness – dominating, puritanical, analytical . . . that Lawrence saw as negated by this landscape?” A more recent writer, David Tacey in Edge of the Sacred (1995) proposes that to encounter the spirit of the place, we have to sacrifice a certain rational mind that wants to conquer the land rather than be receptive and disciple to it. And until we have entered this sacrifice, Tacey suggests that moments which bespeak of sacrifice will continue to arise in the national life as reminders of the task that is before us.

Whatever of these provocative observations about Australia forging its national identity in discontinuity with a past cultural heritage, our annual celebration of ANZAC reminds us of the undeniable importance of sacrifice in our life together. Something must die, in order that something might live. It is the clarion call of our Easter proclamation as Christians. Yet, sacrifice is not an easy notion for us to engage, let alone live. In an affluent culture, the need to ‘go without’ does not enjoy much currency. We become seduced to not having less, but always having more. The price may well be an increasing sense of individualism, but more significantly an increased experience of isolation. What ANZAC teaches is the fundamental relationship between sacrifice and solidarity. Yes, we think of the mateship forged in the trenches of Gallipoli and Villers-Bretonneux, but think, too, of that poignant solidarity forged among so many Australian families in their grief one hundred years ago. When we are prepared to stand together in sacrifice, there is every possibility of discovering a depth of bond between ourselves.

Our Christian perspective on life is permeated through and through with the importance of sacrificial love. We die to ourselves so that another might live. May that sacrifice we celebrate in our memory of the Crucified and Risen One impel us to recognise more deeply the central invitation of ANZAC itself: the future – our future – cannot be received without being ready to sacrifice.

Into what sacrifice am I invited?

 

 

1 See “Looking back on the battle of Villers-Bretonneux,” http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-06/battle-of-villers-bretonneux/5497598, accessed 24 April 2018.

 

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Broken Bay

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