Ninety years have now passed since the Australian submarine AE 2 penetrated the Dardanelles and entered the Sea of Marmara, and Australian and New Zealand forces landed on the shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Those who took part in the ill-fated operation have now gone. None remains to speak to us of what occurred on 25 April 1915. And yet, those men, and that day, still linger in our memory. After so many years, and with the world changing so very much, let me ask you three simple questions: what ought we to remember? Why is remembering still important? How … might we remember?
On Anzac Day, we remember ordinary men and women, inspired and motivated by a range of ideas and hopes, who struggled and suffered in a manner that disclosed something important about life and living. Their spirit – a shared, collective ethos that arose spontaneously on the Gallipoli Peninsula as comrades died and victory appeared elusive, revealed the distinct character of Australians and New Zealanders. It also reflected the divine imprint on every person – the touch of God’s gracious hand that enables men and women to transcend self, in reaching out to embrace others, as God lovingly reaches out and embraces us. In the Anzacs, we commemorate something that points us beyond humanity – it gives us a glimpse of righteousness – of right living before our God, and with our neighbour.
There is a line in Psalm 112 which reads: ‘the righteous shall be held in everlasting remembrance’. Everlasting remembrance. But do you really think they will? As people who watch, read and listen to television, newspapers and radio, do you actually think the good, the true and virtuous will NOT be forgotten? Apart from the obituary notices, most people … and the majority of lives … are ignored, and apart from a small circle of family and friends, forgotten in time. If someone displays altruism, selflessness and compassion, we will probably not notice them or their deeds, although these things undergird civilised society and give shape to genuine community. Regrettably, it is the corrupt, the evil and the vengeful who usually make news and become infamous.
‘The righteous will be held in everlasting remembrance’. Is this sentiment in the Psalms true or merely wishful thinking? That the righteous OUGHT to be held in everlasting is more than that. We want to know that the noble, the brave and the courageous are not forgotten. We feel in our bones that goodness and virtue deserves recognition and honour, and should receive it. Yes, the righteous – those who live rightly before God and neighbour - ought to be held in everlasting remembrance because they have something invaluable to share and wise counsel to impart. As part of our effort to transform ought into will, we must persist with gathering each year on 25 April and continue to remember the special deeds that marked out the Anzacs, and their successors, as human beings worthy of emulation, and whose spirit pointed to righteousness, and those things that reflect the character and purpose of a generous Creator, and the way he would have us live – the way that was demonstrated in the words and works of Jesus – the one who lived and died for others. It is vital that we do this, especially when we come to reflect on the tragic reality of war and its victims.
In remembering, we are reminded that war is destructive, combat is devastating, and the human beings touched by it … are affected physically, emotionally and spiritually. Thousands upon thousands of those who left these shores, and the islands of New Zealand, were killed and incapacitated in the belief, and with the hope, that they offered their lives in the service of something greater than themselves. They gave their tomorrow for our today. And so, we should be a grateful people … never forgetting, nor failing to esteem, their sacrifices … nor the price of freedom cruelly calculated in human blood. And those who returned from armed conflict and peacekeeping missions, and are among us today, who strived in their different ways to build peace that would last and a justice that would abide, they are entitled to our enduring gratitude and deserve to be remembered.
And so, in our own ways, individually and together, we remember. And as we do … on this one day of the year, each occasion is made solemn by the symbols around which we gather, and the ground on which we stand. Something of lasting significance has been invested in each place that has given it a resonance of the sacred. Commemorations like this dawn service, and places like the majestic Australian War Memorial, embody something that cannot be exhausted by familiar rituals, or reduced to mere words. They hint at the spiritual, the numinous and the divine and, as a people, we believe that these things abide … because they underscore all that is needful in life and living, and direct our gaze to the eternal and the holy – to God.
On the 90th anniversary of the landings at Anzac Cove, we stand united as friends and perhaps former foes, to remember. When we utter those profound words ‘We will remember them’, let us accept the challenge they imply. At this hour, on this day and for us privileged to be here in Canberra – before this memorial, may our gathering help us to understand not just what we ought to bring to mind … but why … and how … we might remember. Although those we commemorate today might not be known to many or, indeed, to any, the God who gave them life, who knows and remembers their names, with him we are assured: ‘the righteous shall be kept in everlasting remembrance’. Thanks be to God. Amen.