This is the message I spoke at the Anzac Day service at Penneshaw on Anzac Day (25th April) 2015. This was the first time I spoke at an Anzac Day service.
One of the best known verses of the Bible to be associated with Anzac Day and the remembrance of the fallen comes from John 15:13 where less than an hour before he is arrested and taken off to be executed Jesus himself says greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends. The central story of Christianity is that the purest form of love was personified in Jesus Christ who, in turn, represents God whose fullest nature is to give love. Above claims made by us religious types about God’s saving grace, forgiveness, strength and power, the Bible says that love is the most central meaning of the Christian story.
I have heard it said that “forced love is rape, no matter who is doing the loving” and I think that that is a key message for Anzac Day, and for Christianity. For love to be love it has to be voluntary, you can never be forced to love someone. Forced love is not love; it might be toleration, it might even be accompaniment, but it is not love.
Our Anzacs are typified by many aspects which make them different to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and medical corps of other nations, but I want to highlight one unique aspect. In the First World War they were all volunteers. Britain conscripted soldiers to the front, so did New Zealand, but each and every Aussie digger and nurse was a volunteer. He or she chose to go: that is love. Perhaps very few of them actually chose to die, although some doubtless did sacrifice their life in the heat of the moment, but we know that every Australian went willingly, knowingly risking his or her life on behalf of the values held close by God and by Australia. God’s opinion is less valued by our nation a century later, and far fewer of our servicemen and women are practicing Christians now than were a century ago, but the same selflessness on behalf of the nation, in the name of sacrificial love, typifies all who serve Australia today.
I have four grandfathers who served their nations in the world wars; two Australian and two British, two in WWI and two in WWII. My great-grandfathers were both in France, and the Australian one was present at Beersheba as an engineer with the Australian Lighthorse. Both made it home alive; the Aussie to become a shopkeeper and the Englishman to become an Ambulance driver. My English grandfather was an aircraft fitter with the RAF and served with Bomber Command in England during the Battle of Britain and later in South Africa. My Australian grandfather was a Rat of Tobruk and he was also in New Guinea and Borneo. Again both made it home, the Englishman to emigrate to Australia in 1965 to work for GMH at Fisherman’s Bend, the Aussie to company clerk work in Melbourne. But it is my Rat grandfather, in whose honour I wear my Junior Rat badge today, who I wish to highlight. He was in the 2/5 Field Ambulance. When everyone else was carrying a gun my grandpa carried a stretcher. When a Stuka from the Luftwaffe strafed and bombed the Red Cross huts at Tobruk a falling bomb landed behind my grandpa as he sprinted for cover. The bomb did not explode, but it showered my grandpa with gravel as it buried itself in the courtyard. When the same aircraft was shot down by Australian artillery and its pilot captured by the gun-crew, it was my grandpa who nursed the arrogant German prisoner in the very hut he had tried to destroy. Greater love has no man; and greater patience too.
So today when the slouch hat is still to be found in foreign lands, and when people here in Australia want to shoot and stab our police just for being police, we remember that the message of Anzac Day is the message of Easter Day. It’s not death, it’s not glory, it’s not victory, and it’s not even patriotism. The message of Anzac is love and the remembrance of sacrificial love, a love so strong that it would lead a man give his life in the supreme act of love rather than see his mates live to be enslaved by injustice, oppression, and fear.