Anzac Day service | Lest we forget

26 April 2021 | Revd Phil Austin

In my formative years in the 1960s there was a continual conflict going on that was “Vietnam”. It was a television war. For us every night it was on the news, and, well, I did not understand why it was happening at all, but it was my first introduction to the violence and destruction that war brought. It made me ask questions of my father about his role in the RAF; some of the answers were funny (pilots landing aircraft perfectly only without putting the undercarriage down which cost them their much-prized leave); he also told me about strapping his mates into Spitfires and never seeing them again.

As I grew and started my engineering apprenticeship, all the training I received was from men who had served in the Second World War. I listened to some of their stories – again, some funny, some shocking and some scary. As a cheeky teenager I probably did not offer the respect for their service and sacrifice that they deserved. They looked at my long hair and hippy-like appearance, shook their heads and said, “I fought in a war for you, just look at you listening to that awful rock music, looking like that”. Well, they had a point I guess, and they were the reason I had those freedoms. Now I’m just sorry that I never thanked them for their service and sacrifice, and I hold a deep respect for what they endured.

 The key I think for us is that a parallel can be made between the sacrifice that the Anzacs made for their countries and the sacrifice that Jesus made for humankind—both were made to provide freedom. The Anzacs brought political and physical freedom whereas Jesus offers spiritual and eternal freedom. Some of the words that are associated with the Anzacs are ‘courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice’. There are many stories of men and women who sacrificed their comfort, freedoms and livelihood for others on the battlefield; some, of course, gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. There are also many stories, from across the centuries, of godly people who sacrificed their comfort and safety – and, yes, even their lives – to share the message of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one I can think of, for instance.

God’s intention has always been to be in relationship with humankind, but we have often sinned, strayed and turned away from God. God has provided a way for us to be in relationship with him again, but this came at a price – the sacrifice Jesus paid through his death, and the victory he won in resurrection which means that sin is conquered and salvation is secured for everyone who believes in him. We can experience freedom from sin and death and have assurance of eternal life when we believe in God because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Anzac Day is celebrated once a year, remembering the thousands of Australian and New Zealand lives given by men and women on battlefields around the world.

I want to share with you some of the statistics :
Gallipoli, Great Britain and Ireland: 21,255 dead – 52, 251 wounded;
Australia 8,709 dead – 19,441 wounded;
New Zealand 2,779 dead – 5,212 wounded.
The total allied casualties were 141,517, and the Ottoman Empire was 86,692 dead. The total is a staggering 392,856. This is just Gallipoli – I am staggered by these numbers. The total casualties of World War 1 are estimated at around 40 million.

A story about ‘The Padre’, Anglican Reverend Henare Wepiha Te Wainohu
‘When soldiers of the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion recalled ‘the Padre’, they spoke with great feeling for the Reverend Henare. As chaplain to the Maori troops during World War I, Te Wainohu made a big impression on the soldiers he served. At a time when they were separated from their own people and exposed to great danger, he provided them with spiritual, cultural support and guidance. Henare Te Wainohu risked his life for others on many occasions at Gallipoli. He worked with the medical teams and carried the wounded, gave out water, and comforted the dying—even while he was being shot at!’

 The story about Jesus
‘Mary was a young teenage girl engaged to Joseph, a descendant of King David. Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem. It was prophesied that Jesus was the Saviour, the Messiah that God had promised to the Jewish people. After Jesus was born, however, the family was forced to run away to Egypt because King Herod, the ruler of Israel, had ordered that this promised King of the Jews must be killed’ (because he didn’t want Jesus to take his place as king). ‘So after living as a refugee in Egypt for some years, Jesus and his parents returned to the little town of Nazareth where he studied the Scriptures—as all Jewish boys did – learnt a trade, and he grew to understand his relationship with God his father and with all people. ‘At around 30 years of age Jesus called 12 men to follow him as disciples. He taught them all he knew about God and to spread the good news of the sacrifice he was about to make. He taught that by loving God we can be free from sin and unwise choices and can live forever in heaven. Believing in Jesus and God still gives hope to people. In John 10:10 it says, ‘I have come so that you may have life, and have it to the full.’ ‘The Reverend Henare Wepiha Te Wainohu pointed soldiers to the fact that there is someone—Jesus—who made a sacrifice that was about far more than protecting countries or property or people, it was a sacrifice that provided us all with the opportunity to win eternal life and victory over sin.’

We rightly say ‘lest we forget’, remembering the great sacrifice by others for our freedom. How much more should we remember the sacrifice that Jesus paid for our immortal souls?

A soldier’s prayer
I asked God for strength that I might achieve
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey
I asked for health that I might do greater things
I was given infirmity that I might do better things
I asked for riches that I might be happy
I was given poverty that I might be wise
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life
I was given life that I might enjoy all things
I got nothing I asked for but everything I hoped for
Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered,
I am among men, most richly blessed.