This year I have found myself comparing and contrasting the events that sit behind the two major public holidays in April. That is, Easter and Anzac Day. Both are recognised on the national stage, both are times that trigger thousands to gather, and both derive their significance from the sacrificial giving of life for the sake of others.
In recent years, Anzac Day has grown in national importance and popularity. While Australia Day has become mired in controversy and debate, Anzac Day seems to have emerged as a symbol of what it means to be truly Australian. The events that occurred at Gallipoli have become a touchstone for sifting our values as a nation and what ultimately unites us.
On Anzac Day, growing numbers of Australians march at dawn services remembering those who made sacrifices at Gallipoli a little over 100 years ago. At Anzac Cove, 7,500 Australians were killed with a further 18,500 wounded or missing in action. It was a campaign that in many ways illustrated something of the futile brutality of warfare. And yet, as a nation, it has become a touchstone of the values we regard as quintessentially Australian—patriotism, mateship, sacrifice, freedom and determination in the face of adversity.
Over the last twenty years or so, the language that accompanies Anzac Day has assumed almost spiritual proportions. People have described Anzac Day as ‘A creed to which we can all aspire’, ‘… the eternal place in the Australian soul’ and ‘… a spiritual phenomenon’. With the centenary celebrations just a few years ago, Anzac Cove has become a popular destination for Australians to make a pilgrimage. Perhaps more than any other day or event, Anzac Day has become a symbol of what unites us.
The surface similarities with Easter are not hard to spot. One man, Jesus, heroically gave his life for the sake of others. It is an event that unites believers and profoundly shapes their identity. For churches, Easter is still one of the largest ‘festivals’ resulting in full churches around the nation. Like Anzac Day, Easter recognises a real time historical event that occurred, not a century ago, but 2,000 years ago. There is no question that, for believers, Easter is a truly spiritual occasion where we remember that Jesus made it possible to have a relationship with the living God.
And yet, the differences between the two are more profound than the similarities. It is right to honour those who give their lives in service of their nation. Any nation that neglects lessons from its history is doomed to repeat mistakes from the past. The events at Anzac Cove do represent sacrifice and bravery, but also highlight sadness and loss that always accompany war. In the end, the war to end all wars didn’t end all wars. Jesus was just one man, not an army, and there is no question his death was both sad and unjust. However, through his death something eternal was achieved. His death accomplished all that was necessary so that all humanity for all time is able to have a relationship with God. On the cross, sin was dealt with once and for all. Unlike those at Anzac Cove who have been followed by many thousands since who have given their lives in sacrifice for their country, Jesus died once and for all, for the sins of the whole world. It is unrepeatable. Its scope is also profoundly different in that it is an international event for all people everywhere, and not just for one people or one nation.
I am thankful for those who serve our nation and who have made significant, even ultimate, sacrifices to protect and serve generations that follow them. It is fitting to remember them on Anzac Day. I am even more thankful for Jesus, who died for all humankind so that we can have eternal peace with God that starts now. We did not deserve this divine intervention, and yet God in his grace and mercy stepped into our world to provide reconciliation and peace.
You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.